What do our people need to see from us?
For years I made it a habit to wake up, read my Bible, pray, and then watch the news. I have always wanted to make sure I was communing with God first and then keeping an eye on what was going on in the world. That seemed like a good strategy for living and leading faithfully in this age.
But that routine is not as consistent as it once was. Particularly when it comes to checking the news. Certainly, the reasons are diverse for some changes in my morning rhythm. But one reason I have changed things up a bit is because the news is rarely encouraging. It is, however, consistently troubling. The presence of a pandemic, the reality of ethnic disharmony, the growing social unrest and the constant political posturing that dominates the airwaves have all combined to simply steer me away from checking the news, at least checking it every morning!
And yet, from time to time, I return to the television or website to check in. I still think wise living in evil days demands watchfulness. And, as one who pastors a church, I believe watchfulness helps me shepherd more faithfully and helpfully. So, though less often as in the past, I keep my eyes open to the larger events in this world.
As I watch, the reality of a fallen world is clear. The groaning of the world is becoming louder and louder. COVID-19 has rocked every corner of the globe. Debates over science, wearing a mask or which expert we should listen to have created chaos and confusion. Social injustices continually raise their ugly heads. Though we may not live in the Jim Crow era, it seems we have not made the strides in terms of social justice and ethnic harmony that we once believed. Riots fill the streets of our cities, protesters march in droves and neighbors fight against neighbors. In the midst of it all, it is time for United States citizens to elect a president. Donald Trump and Joe Biden are the frontrunners for their respective parties. The political discourse of our nation, if one can still use the word “discourse” for what we see, is filled with intense and too often sinful emotion.
At least this much is clear: This generation has not figured out how to disagree in winsome and loving ways. Perhaps we have forgotten that we live, supposedly, in a pluralistic society. This melting pot of the West is made up of people who have different backgrounds, a plethora of opinions, and diverse beliefs. We are not all alike. So, we should expect disagreement, even passionate disagreement, when we are talking about major policies that impact so many people.
The problem is not that we disagree. Disagreement is simply a reality of human existence. I disagree with my wife, some of my church members disagree with the way I understand a point of theology, and my kids always disagree with me when it comes to how much ice cream is too much. Again, the issue is that we do not know how to disagree with our neighbor and still be neighborly. Our disagreement turns too quickly into arguments. Arguments lead too often to fighting. And before you know it, we hate those we are fighting and cannot seem to assume the best about the person across the table (or on the other side of the Facebook comment). Simply put, anger and hate too readily mark our public discourse.
I wish I could say I’ve seen professing followers of Jesus set a better example. Sadly, I’ve watched (and been guilty myself) or falling into the same worldly patterns. When I say “worldly,” I have in mind the unregenerate world. As I’ve participated in personal discussions and watched online discourse between confessing Christians concerning any number of issues, I’m too often saddened because the dialogue regularly lacks any distinctly Christian demeanor. In other words, sometimes in public discourse it is hard to tell the difference between those who supposedly have the Spirit of Christ living within them and those who do not even believe the Spirit exists!
What the world needs is to see Jesus. And where will the world see Jesus if not in and through his blood-bought people? It is in Spirit-wrought, new-creational, Bible-saturated people that Jesus is put on display for a watching world. For those who are in Christ, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). When you look at a Christian, you should see Christ within.
Simply put, the world needs to see a people who are like Christ. That is, they need to see and hear from and engage with Christ-like men and women. Therefore, pastors, we would do the world around us, and the churches under our care, a great service if we would spend time in the coming days and months calling professing Christians to pursue Christlikeness in all of life. That means calling people to live the way Jesus lived (cf. 1 John 2:6) for the good of their neighbors and the glory of God among the nations.
But where do we begin? I assume that most people reading this article would agree. Yes, the world needs to see Jesus. The unbelieving world needs to see the good deeds of God’s people so that they would praise the Father (Matt. 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). But what specifically do they need to see? Well, the character of Christ deserves long and sustained reflection. That would take more room than I have here. So, let me offer three Christlike characteristics that pastors should model and call their people to pursue in the coming months.
Faithfulness. The story of the Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness. He promises hope in Genesis 3:15 and fulfills his promise in the person and work of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 4:4; 2 Cor. 1:20). Without fail, God proves faithful to his word. Jesus, being God of very God (cf. John 1:1–3; 8:58; 20:28), is faithful, too. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father, never falling into sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). He is, indeed, the obedient Son with whom the Father is well pleased (Matt. 3:17; cf. 12:18; 17:5; Mark 1:11).
To pursue Christlikeness is to pursue faithfulness. In the church, the world should see a people who keep their word. We have a high say-do ratio, as one friend has stated it. When we say we will do this or that, then we do it. When we say we believe something, those beliefs drive our actions. We are faithful at home, faithful at work and faithful to our friends.
In a world where you too often cannot trust what you read, see, or hear, the church is full of faithful and trustworthy men and women. In a world where governments let us down and leaders are found unfaithful, our neighbors should find in Jesus’ people those who are faithful.
Humility. In addition to being faithful, humility marked Jesus. Though he dwelt in a heavenly home, he leaves the glories of heaven to dwell among a sinful people (John 1:14). Paul captures the humility of the incarnate Son in poetic fashion.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:5–11
Notice that the humble posture of Jesus is the mind we are to “have … among [ourselves].” Jesus gives us the example of the ultimate others-oriented life. That is, following in the footsteps of Jesus means we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3–4).
Again, what the world should see in the lives of professing Christians are those who are ready to go out of their way to serve others. We lean towards our neighbors, making sacrifices as needed in order to put Christ on display for their good and his glory.
Love. God is love. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus is loving. Perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible points towards the sacrificial love of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And, as Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Jesus does. For the joy on the other side, Jesus lays down his life at the cross (cf. Heb. 12:2).
Of course, love does not negate conviction, boldness and speaking the truth. Yet, as we hold fast to our convictions, and even contend for the faith (Jude 3), we do so with love (Eph. 4:15). There are times for forcefulness, but even here we can be winsome and kind. As we seek to reach this world for Jesus by putting him on display, we must be a people marked by love. We love one another and we love the world when we set out to do what is best for those around us. Some times that means speaking forthrightly, though winsomely. At times, it means standing firm in our convictions, yet without being a jerk. It always means telling the truth. In seeking to love the world, we point towards the one who has loved the world to death.
Brothers and sisters, the world is a mess. We see it on our social media feeds, on the television, in our newspapers and in our neighborhoods. In the midst of the chaos, the church should stand out as distinct. We are a people bought by the blood of Jesus, awakened from the dead by the power of his Spirit, and should therefore live as new creations in Christ. To this new-creational life, to Christlikeness, pastors, we should call our people even as we pursue such lives ourselves.