What is the role of the faithful disciple amidst the political realm?
Of the numerous theological questions that are debated, there are few that seem to be more contentious than this one. Yet it hardly stands as a new issue or one that has only been faced in our present age. It has been one that has plagued the follower of Christ since the birth of his ministry and even before, one that even threatened to draw him in.
The irony of it lies in the inherent danger that comes through the misunderstanding of the faithful and vigilant disciples place amidst this debate. Consider, for example, the life of our blessed Savior himself. Knowing the people had intended to try and crown him an earthly king he would reject the concept himself and withdraw from them. (John 6:15) Yet, when he would stand before Pontius Pilate, he would stand accused of seeking to establish for himself an earthly kingdom with himself as the sovereign over the people. (John 18:33-34)
Though Christ himself did not confuse the two, the confusion that was reaped by others, it offers to us the reason why Christ himself taught to us that we need to “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.” (Matthew 22:15-22)
You see, as with all things, it is a matter of balance. Though the church, and, at the most basic of levels, the faithful disciple need be more concerned with the Spiritual Kingdom and the welfare of the hearts and souls of all people, whereas the state need be concerned with the body and the orderly governance over it, this does not preclude the follower of Christ from participating in the civil offices of government. What it means is that though, as in all things, their character and their leadership should be an example of Christ and His love, (1 Corinthians 4:16) there is no case by which they should impose their spiritual belief on the legal ordinances that administer and preside over the citizenry.
In fact, as exemplified by Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, the three who stood by their faith even as Nebuchadnezzar sought to force them against their conscience, (Daniel 2-3) the only place of civil disobedience against the laws of men are the acts that are forced because of the overstepping of Kings and Princes and States into the Spiritual Realm when they seek to, through any means, compel us to betray our faith. As we are not to force our faith on others, seeking to compel them to live by it, so can no government seek to force us to live contrary to it by their own acts and laws.
This is vital for the disciple of Christ to remember as it gives the primary means for us to successfully utilize ourselves and our faith in our understanding of the means by which God wishes us to live. After all, as C.S. Lewis would once observe, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Our focus, if we seek to preserve and defend the principles of love, faith, charity and grace, need be on how we, through our lives, our works and our deeds, give testimony to it. There is a fundamental difficulty with this when we focus our faith on the temporal through an earthly focus, failing to understand that Christ’s kingdom is not of this earth. Rather than being a vessel for the Spirit to win hearts and minds, we become intent on being a vessel for our own morality as a weapon to force others to live as we demand in the most self-righteous of ways.
Guided by hope and love be a force for change, for good in the world. Focus on personal charity rather than expecting government to legislate it or mandate it, focus on sharing a message of love to those who are hurt and wounded, the broken hearted and the downtrodden, rather than pushing for a law. Strengthen each other by what you have to give in hope to those around you, and let your life testify to a greater understanding of unity and peace. Each of us, on our own, through the power of the Spirit have the capacity to the greatest good for others while showing them the path to Christ, each day, rather than riling yourself up with current events, ask yourself how you might do that.
In doing this, our concern must be more for the spiritual welfare and edification of others. It must be to uplift them in the true messages of Christ, of which the primary is the freedom of the spirit and the liberty of the soul. By understanding, by living this we can do more for the truest forms of hope and change in this world.
How then, as a disciple of Christ do you see yourself doing the most good? How do you strengthen others? How do you edify them? This is our mandate and it comes from the truest authority over us, our God, as a personal calling to each of us as Christ’s followers. How will you live in it today?
There are a lot of teachings that our blessed Savior espoused that, for the faithful disciple, reflects a hard path, and a tough road to go down. Yet, even as we consider that, there is one that stands out with a sense of difficulty that is perhaps the most challenging: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
Contemplating it even now one has to wonder exactly what Christ meant. After all, we live in a world of struggles and adversity, one where so often, it would seem at least, when one challenge fades another arises to strike at us. As warriors for Christ (Ephesians 6:10-18) we are not meant to be doormats, to be the ones who are walked all over. To run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1) we have to be strong, and to assert ourselves in a world where the wisdom of God is so often viewed as foolishness.
How then can we properly love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? How can that be the ground we stand upon and find that we maintain our integrity?
Perhaps our best understand comes from the story of Saul of Tarsus. (Acts 9:1-19)
The great persecutor of the early church, there were few names that reached as far or struck as much fear as his. Any disciple who wished to preserve their life knew he was a force to be avoided. There were few who could be viewed as a greater enemy than him. Yet, on the road to Damascus, with a hatred in his heard, it would be the same man who would hear the thundering voice of God shake the earth around him, calling out to him.
The point is we never know who God is going to call, nor do we know the miracles that He is going to work. Yet what we do know is that if God truly is love, (1John 4:8) then there is no greater weapon against Him, nor any more powerful tool to be used against His will than our hatred and our fear. It breeds an animosity, a scornful tongue and a self-righteous spirit that does nothing more than hinder His plan and His design.
The disciple is called to love their enemy and to pray for those who persecute not because it is an easy task or a simple one, but because it is the right one. By failing in this teaching we let thoughts and ideas into our hearts and minds that have no rightful place there. We allow ourselves be tempted in a way that prevents our spiritual growth as we trust our own understanding more than that of God’s. After all, to hate is to believe that one is beyond redemption, beyond salvation and thereby of little value or worth. It is to dehumanize God’s creation when the truth is we need to hope on their redemption all the more, with a greater sense of purpose.
Failing to do this does nothing but harden our own hearts and the hearts of those who need love, who need to be guided by it all the more against us and the guidance they may need.
The truth is not all may have the road to Damascus conversion of Saul. Some may stand steadfast in their ways, guided in the belief that where they stand is right. That does not mean that we should hope any less, understanding where hope and love are, that is where faith begins. In doing this we show a greater trust in God and a better understanding of what his plan is.
Do not rejoice in the fall of others, nor hate any. It blinds you to love and charity, to hope and to faith. In doing this we create for ourselves a stumbling block that ensnares us in the challenges it offers. Be strong and courageous, realizing that, through Christ Jesus, there is no greater power that we possess in our lives than the power we have to love. It is then, and only then, that, as a disciple of our blessed Savior, Christ Jesus, we become the imitator of him that we were intended to be.
The First Letter of John
1 John 2: 18-27 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.t21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.25 And this is the promise that he made to ust—eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
There is nothing harder for the Disciple than the feeling that God, He just isn’t listening. When we put our trust in verses that tell us “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) there are few stumbling blocks like the sense that our prayers are going unanswered. After all, isn’t this the Lord who promised us that He would never fail us or forsake us? (Joshua 1:5) Why then, in our hour of need, do we struggle, wondering to ourselves if we are alone in our plight?
How can we trust the promises, the assurances of our blessed Savior, ones that tell us, when we are weak and heavy laden, to lay our burdens at his feet to find peace, to find comfort through him (Matthew 11:28-29) when it seems as if our Heavenly Father is so far from us?
That though, for as much as the thought runs through our mind, isn’t the question. Rather, the more dominant question we need to ask ourselves is who is God to us, and who are we to Him?
Through Scripture we learn that we are children of a Heavenly Father. (Hosea 1:10) This is a relationship that we have to consider carefully as we come to God, as we ask of Him, seeking His divine grace and His wondrous love in our lives. Are we the humble who wait in patience and reverence for all to be revealed or are we the spoiled children demanding of God, asking for signs and miracles that are not part of His plan, impatient to the point where when it is not as we would like we question His love for us?
Since the moment of our conception God has known us and has had a plan for our lives. (Jeremiah 1:5) Sometimes it’s a plan that is one that we don’t necessarily understand, one that takes us on a road that is different than anything we had planned. There are moments when it is going to be confusing, where it seems like it is going to be harder than it should be. These are the times when we pray and, yes, it is going to seem as if our Heavenly Father is far distant from us, far removed from our lives. Yet just because we don’t comprehend doesn’t make His presence any less real, any less viable in our lives.
Yes, like Saul of Tarsus, we would all like the ground to shake, the earth to move, and the heavens to open with the voice of God cutting through to show us the way. The truth is though that God often chooses subtler ways to move us, we need only then to watch for the signs and to let ourselves be open to the gentle guidance that comes through His hand.
You see God’s timing, God’s wisdom, His direction, it may not be perfect to us, but it is perfect nonetheless. It takes into account our strengths, our weaknesses, our hopes, and even the battles we know not yet we are going to face in the trials of life. What that means is that sometimes we have to wait on an answer, hearing what we want not to hear, that we don’t need to know right now, or this is not what we need. Every loving father who cares for his children needs to say no now and then, not because he can’t but because he knows it is not right for them. God, our Heavenly Father, is no different.
Trust in faith that abides in the knowledge of the love of God, dear disciple of Christ. It may, at times be hard, in a world wrought with challenges, one day longer is not necessarily what we want to expect in the troubles or the struggles that we face. Yet God never allows us to face anything more than we can handle in the journey we are on. Perhaps, at times, it may feel as if He has and like we have been left. Yet this is our attempt to understand the trials before us, rather than a firm understanding of the true nature of God’s grace and love for us.
Whatever the struggle is, whatever the question may be, God is there to listen, and to answer. Open your heart to it, and you will find the answer you are looking for.
The price of discipleship seems as if it would be a high one, doesn’t it? After all, it was our blessed Savior, Christ Jesus, who admonished, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) In a sense it almost seems contradictory to the nature of God, who is love, who taught us, for example, to honor our mother and our father, (Exodus 20:12) and who tells us that to live in hate is to live in death, devoid of the His grace. (1John 2:9-11)
How do we reconcile this to find the true nature of Christ’s calling? How do we look past the inherent ambiguity of this teaching, seeming so inconsistent with all that we have learned otherwise sitting at the feet of our Redeemer?
When Scripture speaks of the believer, it speaks of a person who is free of the yokes and the burdens of this world, telling us where the Spirit is, there is the truest of liberties. (2 Corinthians 3:17) Freedom, in its most basic sense, in its most fundamental of forms, does not and cannot exist in any form of hatred. Hatred is a chain that, when placed around our neck, strangles the life from us as surely as it kills faith itself. The healing that we have been called to is no longer possible, because, in the weakness that it brings, we have forsaken all that was meant to preserve sacred and strengthen life.
At the core of Christ’s teaching is not hatred, nor could it be if he truly is God, as we know him to be. God is, after all, love (1 John 4:8) and love itself is what is at the heart of the matter.
The two greatest commandments that fulfill all aspects of the law are that we love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, and souls and minds, and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:36:40) Yet, even as we consider that teaching we must remember that Christ did not put these on equal footing. The first was to love the Lord, while the second was to love others. At the heart of the matter is that if we are to be faithful to God, if we are to truly follow Him with our whole heart, willing to be led as He would lead us then we can love nothing more than we love Him. Even in the context of the original Greek this is the meaning that lies behind the use of “Hate”, not as we so often think about it, but rather in terms of loving less.
Discipleship means that we must be willing to sacrifice. In love, it means a willingness to give everything and anything in love and hope for others. (John 15:14) When we love God, when we love Christ more than we love anything else, we are willing to give up what is necessary to serve our risen Savior in the hope, the faith, the strength, and the love he first taught us. (John 13:34-35) It means we are willing to offer all of who we are in healing as we find ourselves able to let go and let God lead us.
Perhaps this may be a burden for us, a cross that we must take up and carry. But, in a sense it is a trade, for when we trust God, when we look to Him, holding Him first, we cast the heavier burdens of this world, the self-doubt, the uncertainty for the future, the hurt of lose and the pain of longing far from us, and we take upon us the yoke of service that shines in hope, and dwells in a faith and a knowledge that though we may be affected by the course of this world, nothing will affect us much as it teaches us the value and the worth that truly rests in His creation and His plan.
As you are called to be a Disciple of Christ, God will never ask more of you than you can give, more of you than you can offer. Understanding that we must be willing to lay all of ourselves on the altar of God as a sacrifice, knowing that, as much is given to us in the grandness of His design much will be asked of us. Yet that price of discipleship should be one we are always willing to pay.
Matthew 7:13-14 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
The path that has the least least amount of traffic on it is the narrow path that leads to heaven. Don’t think to yourself that the path needs to be improved, there isn’t any reason to make it wider, after all it is more than adequate for the amount of traffic that is using it.
The path is well known, there are a lot of signs pointing out where the path is, it is on all of the good maps, the problem isn’t that the path is hidden or hard to find. The problem is that so few make the choice to use this path, this path isn’t always safe, it isn’t very comfortable, it doesn’t have all of the best places to pull over and rest.
Even less people decide to stay on the narrow path for very long. It doesn’t take too long before the wider paths that are paved and have bright lights on them tempt the traveler to take a cross road. These well traveled ways are a temptation that is hard to resist, they are so easy, they don’t require very much effort or thought, just follow that guy right in front of you.
Luke 13:24 “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail.
This pilgrim needs to be determined to stay on the narrow path, but I shouldn’t go it alone, I need to invite other people to come along with me as I travel.
Help me to remain faithful to you Lord, increase my urgency to pull somebody off of those big paths.
There are few greater controversies for the disciple than the question of judging others and the proper nature of it. After all, to read the words of Scripture, to read the words of our blessed Savior himself, we come to understand that there is an inherent evil that can come with the application of our judgment as we assess the nature of sin and apply to it our own understanding.
Does this mean though that we do not judge? What do passages such as “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her…” (John 8:7), “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) or the ever popular “Do not judge or you too will be judge…” (John 7:1) truly inform us of in our walk with Christ? What do they teach us of the true nature of discipleship and the way we observe others?
As with all things the truest measure of our judgment and the nature of our faith must be tempered with love. It must be met with a generous spirit given to hope and the edification of others, bearing the fruits of faith to nourish and strength the lives of others. The controversy itself was never meant to steer us away from assessing and evaluating the actions of others. It was meant to ensure that we look to ourselves, that we understand ourselves so that, in all that we do, we act in steadfast devotion to our brothers and sisters, not out of condemnation but out of affection for them.
You see, of the two greatest commandments given by Christ himself, the second is to love our neighbor, to love our fellow man, as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) What this means is that we must not be like the Pharisee, the hypocrite who deems himself righteous without a careful examination of himself, while condemning those around us for wickedness. (Luke 18:9-14) Our lives, they have to be given to a close and studious scrutiny as we daily inspect our own walks with our Savior as we are given to the Spirit of the Lord. With this this though also comes the understanding that we must hold others to the same level of accountability as we hold ourselves.
What we must remember is that, if given in the right spirit, if shown with the right heart, there is nothing more loving than to look at others, and to help them get back on the right path. If done with in faith, and charity, guided by a hope for them, it is done in a manner that does not seek to judge but that wants nothing more than to ensure that they are right with God even as we try to ensure that we are right with Him ourselves.
In hope and love for others this never comes in the form of an attack, nor should it be intended as a condemnation. The thought of stoning others, of casting them away, despising them for whatever offense they may have caused should never cross our mind. There is, after all, no means of spiritual death that we can heap upon the lives of others quite like the hurt and the sorrow we can bring with harsh words on our lips, haughtiness in our hearts and hatred in our eyes.
As a faithful and devoted disciple of Christ, given in a life of service, we cannot falter in our love for others, in our hopes for them, just as we hope for ourselves. Look to your life as a means not to judge others but to equip them for the righteous path, to nourish them for the long road through this world. This, at times, means helping them understand errors so that they can learn from them. Yet any help offered must be given in a clean heart and a right spirit that you may serve them for their greatest growth in a testimony to God’s love for them.
When this is done, when this is our nature, there is no controversy, there is no challenge, there is only the strength we can find in unity with others, rather than the pain that comes in the division of scorn.
Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously,and He will give you everything you need.
There is no shortage of things to worry about in this world but for those of us that are Christ followers there is a major concern that we need to be interested in. It isn’t the typical worry of the average citizen of our planet, it’s not about the clothes that we “need” to have or the restaurant that we need to be seen at, it is a far greater concern that is supposed to be on the mind of the Christ follower.
The concern that should occupy our minds should be for the kingdom, Jesus told us that the most important thing in life is to seek first:
- The Kingdom of God- I need to seek to be in the kingdom and then I need to tell others how they can be in it as well.
- To be righteous- To become interested in His approval, to live according to God’s will
We ought to sacrifice everything else, making the other stuff that this world is concerned with of no importance so that we can work for the advancement of the kingdom, which is of greater value than all the world’s riches. God said that he would supplying every other need that we have. (Philippians 4:19)
We were transferred into a different kingdom when we were saved, I need to be concerned with the Kingdom of God and allow him to rule over my life, the ruler of the kingdom of darkness should have no say over the way that I live and I should not allow him to weigh me down. (Colossians 1:13, Hebrews 12:1)
Lord Jesus, help me to be concerned with the things that concern you and to let the rest of the stuff become insignificant.
There is a warning from our blessed Savior that all of His faithful disciples must heed lest they fall into the trap of arrogance, pride and self-righteousness. It is the cautionary counsel that informs the spiritually aware not to make their faith into a show, or a matter of theater for others to see. (Matthew 6:5-18) What is done in secret, He admonishes, is done for God to take notice of, it need not be seen by others.
Yet what does that really mean? What does it mean and what effect is it meant to have on the life of the faithful and the devoted given in a life to Christ?
Every now and then when faith is displayed for the world to see, that question seems to arise as those words of Christ as quoted. We see it even today amidst our society as the public displays of devotion of some are shunned and sought to be ushered away, making it almost sound as if that humility before the God of our creation is something shameful. How then do we answer that question in a spiritually aware way, and how do we reconcile the proper degree of piety with the marvels of the wonders of God’s blessings we want nothing more than to show the world?
As with all the teachings handed to us by the Divine Word of our Lord, we must allow for Scripture not only to guide us, but to interpret itself for us. There is nothing hypocritical, nor is there any degree of arrogance in displaying your faith for the world to see. In fact, without the works we do, meant to be given in love to others as a sign of devotion to Christ, (John 13:34-36), our faith stagnates and dies. (James 2:14-26) Grafted to the tree of life, our spirits, given to God, are meant to bear fruits. These are meant to be seen, they are meant to be gifts from us to others that we may edify and nourish the whole being of those around us in need.
So clear is Christ on this matter that the next verses (Matthew 6:19-24) warn of us of storing our treasures, of hoarding them deep from sight. What greater treasure have we than the faith that saves us in the redemption that it offers unto us?
At the core of Christ’s teaching is not to hide our faith away, as if it would be sinful for us to display it. If it were there would be no greater hypocrite and sinner than the perfect Son of God whose blameless life made way our path on high. What our Savior tried to demonstrate was a lesson about the self-righteous judging of others based on faith. It meant to teach us a deeper lesson about how we must look at ourselves and look at others, never elevating ourselves above them, living a life devoid of love while claiming to understand the heart and mind of our God.
In humility we are meant to live in service to one another, caring for each other as we care for ourselves and our own spiritual growth, and wellbeing. This cannot be done by locking our faith away from sight, just as surely as it cannot be done with judgmental eyes and scornful tongues.
As a faithful disciple of Christ show your faith, not as a point of pride but as the sign of your humility before a God who calls on you to live a life in service to others, to strengthen and edify those around you. Remember the world will always judge you for it by a different standard than it judges itself, but you are not given over to those assessments. No, by the power of the Spirit, you are given to grace in faith to a loving God who has set the example before you in His beloved Son given for you and your salvation. Our God gives us an armor that is meant for the righteous battles for faith, and like any armor it cannot be hidden away unless it is not worn, and that is when the truly devastating wounds pierce us.
Be not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of salvation (Romans 1:16) and let none tell you it is shameful to carry forward into this world, for it is the strength of endurance, and the hope of our love in the wonders of God’s Spirit through us.