to minister like Jesus

As stated in my previous post, I’ve been reading on the birth of Jesus in preparation for Christmas.  Today I was in the first chapter of John, and thought I’d jot down a few quick notes on what Jesus’ incarnation means to our own ministry on earth.

The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  — John 1:14

The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us:

Jesus performed his ministry here on earth.  He didn’t seek to establish his kingdom among us without being one of us.  Christ didn’t attempt to save the lost without living among them. He gave up for a time equality with the Father and the God powers that came with it, and set out on a journey.  When he arrived, he promptly pitched his tent and unpacked his backpack right here on earth, where we are.  As we seek to continue his ministry in our world, we too are expected to do so incarnationally, living among those whom we seek to serve and influence.  We don’t live like them, but we live with them — we live blatantly spiritual lives into among them, so they see our good works and praise God, who is responsible for our good works.  

If I’m not able to spend time with sinners, I’m not meant to be a missionary.  If I have an aversion to lost people using bad language, my role is not that of an evangelist.  If I expect everyone, Christian or not, to abide by God’s commands, ministry to the fallen world is not my calling.  But I will go further — if these statements describe us, we are not living like Christ.  And we’re certainly not living Christ into the world around us.  If all our friends are Christians, and every event we attend is a gathering of believers, we have no ministry that even resembles Christ’s.  We’ve adopted a man-made and man-ordained strategy to reach the lost.  And we’d better be careful with that….

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father:

Christ came to earth so that God’s glory could be displayed through him to mankind.  We didn’t and couldn’t know what God looked like, until Jesus made him known to us (see v. 18).  And now, in the person of Jesus, we have seen the glory of God.  We should strive always to lead others to witness the glory of God in our lives.  If our ministry is bringing glory to ourselves, we’re necessarily robbing God of at least some of his glory.  We exist to glorify God and show others his glory as well.

Our task in contextualizing the gospel is to remove as many obstacles as possible…
without covering up, hiding, or removing the fact that the gospel itself is not going to fit into a non-believer’s current system of belief.

 Full of grace and truth:

Churches often exist in one extreme or the other.  We either preach a lot of grace, while hiding or ignoring important truths, or we get so caught up in truth that we think we find salvation in knowing it.  Jesus was full of grace AND truth, and in verse 17 we see that Jesus not only possessed them, but came to give them to us.  We have been called to be grace and truth in the world; and we must be both.  We must, when serving others, share with them the truth behind our graciousness.  And we must show people love if we intend to give them truth.  We must fully embody both grace and truth to the fallen world.  

Contextualization is the way in which we share the truth of the gospel in any given culture.  It is basically seeking to remove as many obstacles as possible when presenting the truth of God’s word to non-believers.  Paul described it as being all things to all men — a Jew to the Jews, Gentile to the Gentiles, etc.  Contextualization is important, because there exist so many possible barriers to the gospel in cultures around the world (ie. language, race, gender, age, nationality, socioeconomic background, dress, music preference, favorite sport, etc).  And we mustn’t allow these obstacles to deter non-believers from becoming disciples of Christ.  But today I’m afraid many are “over-contextualizing” the gospel in attempts to make it look more attractive to their target cultures.  Rather than making the Bible easier to understand in a given culture, they are simply modeling the gospel after that culture.  And, as a result, their churches look and act exactly like the cultures in which they serve.  These churches demonstrate an approach to mission which consists of grace without truth.  When we masquerade the gospel in the costume of our day and culture, we’re in essence removing truth.

We cannot seek to remove EVERY existing obstacle when presenting the gospel to an unbelieving world.  Because the truth of the gospel itself is always going to be an obstacle.  It represents an whole other belief system and worldview, that is in constant conflict (or should be) with any culture in which it is presented.  Our task, then, is to remove as many obstacles as possible… without covering up, hiding, or removing the fact that the gospel itself is not going to fit into a non-believer’s current system of belief — and that the kingdom of God will never pledge allegiance to, or be ruled by, any other kingdom.  Many churches today are selling in their neighborhoods an over-contextualized form of Christianity that borders on syncretism.  My guess is their numbers are growing, but their ability to make obedient lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ is not.  And this is being done in the name of “contextualization.”

In summary:

  • As Christ lived and ministered here on earth, we must also be among those whom we seek to serve.  Ministry is done in our communities, not in our buildings.
  • As Christ demonstrated the glory of the Father who sent him, we must seek to glorify God in all we do, pointing others to his glory.  That means there remains no glory for us — not here on earth at least.
  • As Christ was full of grace and truth, and came to give them to us, we must also be full of grace and truth, while being careful to share both with the world around us.



Filed under incarnation, mission

6 responses to “to minister like Jesus

  1. T, a name of many letters… and a man of many words. Go away… read some books.

  2. Hey Brett,

    You don’t know me, but I’ve read several of your posts over at John Alan’s blog and appreciate your heart and perspective. In sincere humility, I’d like to offer a possible clarification to your bolded sentence. You said, “If all our friends are Christians, and every event we attend is a gathering of believers, we have no ministry that even resembles Christ’s.”

    Let me start off by saying I wholeheartedly agree that Believers should be AMONG their communities and not cloistered in buildings and having potlucks.

    But addressing this specific sentence of yours…

    While I see your point and I know your target audience, please keep in mind that Jesus had no LONG-TERM God-hating friends. He was a friend TO tax-collectors and prostitutes and rich young rulers, but IF those people’s hearts did not soften to His Invitation to repent, there was no ongoing relationship of hanging out and cutting up and fellowship. FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD makes us ENEMIES OF GOD. (James 4:4) I’m not yelling, just emphasizing. When the rich young ruler went away sorrowfully, Jesus didn’t go to dinner with Him the next day. The nature of Jesus’ “blatantly spiritual life” brought people to a crossroads… change or go your own way.

    Why is this distinction important? Again, according to James 4:4, if we can’t navigate the difference between being a friend TO the world and being friends WITH the world, then we become adulterers and God’s enemy… serious stuff. We must care. We must have compassion. We must NOT be afraid, in some fundamentalist-kind-of-way, of their sin. But personally, I don’t have pagan friends. Even those related to me by “blood” are not exempt (Jesus said, “MY FAMILY are those who do the will of My Father in heaven.”). Unless they are soft toward Jesus or are moving that direction, I cannot have fellowship with them. I CAN be kind and show them DEMONSTRATIONS of God’s agape love, but I will not join my heart to theirs in friendship.

    Some other verses:
    2Corinthians 6:14-17
    Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

    Matthew 18:15-17
    “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, TREAT HIM AS YOU WOULD A PAGAN OR A TAX COLLECTOR.

    I will be the first to admit there is a serious tension on this matter and I think it largely boils down to defining words like “friendship” and “fellowship.” 1 Cor. 5 (probably one of the most ignored chapters in the New Testament) makes it clear that “associating” with those in the world is not only “permissible” but also reasonable. But qualitatively, there is a large jump between “associating” with an unbeliever and “fellowshipping” and “having friendship” with an unbeliever.

    I hope this is somewhat helpful, if only for the purpose opening up the discussion further. I believe it is one of the most serious issues facing those who would wear the name of Christ today. How do I relate to the the people around me? How do I express Christ and His Love while at the same time “be separate.”? I know you are a student of the Old Testament and the picture there that we see over and over again is God’s chosen people joining themselves to the culture around them, yoking and being influenced by it. And God hated it and hates it.

    1John 2:15-17   
    Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions)is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

    And yet…

    John 3:16… “For God SO LOVED the world…”

    So the tension remains. But I propose that it is NOT like Jesus to have warm, yoking, everything-is-alright friendships and fellowship with anyone — family member, co-worker, grocery clerk — who continues to reject Jesus’ love and gracious invitation. We do our best to care always and extend His Kindness. But if we DO yoke with the world, then God’s Spirit is jealous and is grieved and we cannot please Him.

    Thanks for your efforts there in Tanzania.

    For His Bride,

  3. andy, thanks for visiting the blog. and thanks even more for your thoughts. you’re welcome here, especially if you agree to make me think as you have.

    it’s strange… i actually spent two or three minutes debating over whether or not to use the word ‘friends’ in that sentence. basically i was thinking as you have — i didn’t want to suggest our deepest relationships need be with non-believers. but i also didn’t want to use the word ‘acquaintances,’ as if we just see these people in passing. i considered ‘relationships’ and thought it seemed contrived. finally i settled on ‘friends,’ because i think our modern usage of that word is actually what i intended to say (which is short of fellowship, but more than association).

    i guess, for me, this conversation all depends on how you define friendship. i’m happy to call someone with whom i spend time and to whom i show love a friend — if that time and love is reciprocal. but i also don’t think i’m in any way “yoked” to that individual in doing so. i wouldn’t classify friendship itself as a yoke.

    3 more thoughts:
    1) i think james 4 is about being a friend of THE world — its way of thinking, its motivations, its goals and aspirations, its selfishness and pride. i think it’s entirely possible to be friends with people in the world, without becoming a friend of the world. i think that’s what being salt is all about. i accept the person as a friend, and even enjoy my time with them — but i reject those worldly ways in them (much the same as i do in other Christians). you wrote about Israel “joining themselves to the culture around them, yoking and being influenced by it,” and how God disliked it. i think that’s also what we’re seeing in james — don’t adopt or defend the ways of the world around you, and especially don’t live like them.

    2) i love your phrase, “unless they are soft toward Jesus or are moving that direction….” i think that is one of the keys to this whole conversation. when we begin to see people not as IN or OUT, saved or not saved, but instead as individuals on a journey as part of a larger story, the line concerning with whom i can be friends gets very blurry. Christianity is largely about direction, rarely about lines.

    3) i also liked what you had to say about Jesus’ blatantly spiritual life bringing people to a crossroads. i agree. if i’m living the life to which God has called me, then anyone who would desire to have a friendship with me is “worthy” of being called a friend. it goes back to that direction idea. there were some lepers healed by Jesus that didn’t want anything to do with him — and so, they never spoke to him again, not even to say thanks. i believe Jesus would have gladly counted them friends if they’d returned — he would have seen and welcomed their life direction. no God-hater who full out hates God without question is ever going to want to be friends with me. but a God-hater who is secretly searching for a greater power might. no over-sexed, alcoholic frat boy who is happy and content with his life is ever going to want me as a friend. but if he’s questioning his meaning in a world that seems to have none, he might. i would offer these people my friendship. if they ever decide they don’t want any part of God, i believe they’ll withdraw it.

    i wonder if our ideas on not extending friendship to nonbelievers stem from a fear that Christians are going to start hanging out in bars, drinking, dancing, cheating on taxes, and doing everything non-Christians do? because if my ministry is like Jesus’, i’ll never end up in that situation. he was friends with tax collectors and prostitutes, without ever once extorting money or paying for sex. i happen to know he never even got drunk at their parties.

    so, andy, i think we agree to a large extent, but probably it’s not only our definition of friend that differs? your thoughts?

  4. Brett,

    I’d love to dialog more, but as I’m at work, I need to work as unto the Lord… 🙂

    Maybe when you get a chance you can check out the links and site below. For 20+ years we have been trying to live this stuff out as practically as we know how. Even though this link is from another brother in the church here, you’ll see it has a lot of similarities to our discussion. No need to even post this “reply” if you don’t want but I did want to respond in some way. Keep up the Work!

    The chapters in front of this are all really helpful too. The whole book and series I think you’ll find extremely helpful.

    This link is all transcripts from several visits in Malawi…

  5. Pingback: to befriend, or not to befriend « aliens and strangers

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