Are we living up to the hype of being a Christian? Is there a noticeable difference in our lives before Christ (B.C ;)) and after? What about in comparison with the society we live in? What is it supposed to look like? What did the early Christians look like and how can we make the same kind of difference today? These are the questions I’m answering from 1st Peter 4 in a two part post series.
New Life, New Mission
How did you live before you started following Jesus? In verse one of 1st Peter, Peter wrote to the persecuted church to ‘arm themselves with the attitude of Christ’ during the time of Nero, who famously used the bodies of Christians as torches for his parties. That attitude meant a focus on the will of God that eventually led to the cross for both Jesus and Peter. Shedding tears of blood, Jesus said in Gethsemane, ‘not my will, but thy will’.
How many of us instead say, “I’ll do it my way, not yours?” That’s the difference that should be seen—not living for yourself but for God. That’s how we can make a tangible and noticeable difference. That is our past as opposed to now.
So What Is God’s Will?
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and all righteousness.” To do that, you have to love God and love others. The practical application to start with is to make Jesus the Lord of your life by climbing off your throne, giving it to him, and being ready to follow him to hell and back.
The second application is to do for others what you would want them to do for you. It goes beyond being nice, it’s an action. It is seeing a hungry man and instead of feeling bad for him, you instead buy him lunch. It’s interrupting your schedule to help someone in need.
The pattern is ‘Him and them’ as Mike Clarensau writes in Spirit–Empowered Life as the Great Commission lays it out.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always [remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion], even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 19-20 AMP
Go out and bring more people to Jesus; check out the evangelism resources on my Equipping the Saints page for help. You don’t have to preach at or to people, but people should see the difference Christ made in your life. When they ask then you should be prepared to give them more detail. Look for proactive opportunities like inviting people to church, or just take time to get to know them, give to missions or go on missions. Serve on a ministry or write on a blog like this one.
The thing is, someone who hasn’t seen you in a year since you started following Jesus should see a significant change. If life was all about the stuff you had, the desire should be less. If it was about partying and hooking up, just think of the looks you’ll get when you drop it like a hot rock. They’d think something fishy was going on.
Not Of This World?
Have you ever met someone from a different culture? How unnerving is it until both of you find common ground? That’s what happens as friends adjust to the new you.
Suddenly you’re not interested in going out for a drink after work or on the weekend. You cancel things on your schedule to do volunteer work. Instead of your time being about you, your interests have shifted towards feeding the homeless or visiting sick people. It could be the difference in the day-to-day behavior of you compared to everyone else at work.
Like pointing out where you were overpaid on a check. Or refusing to get even with someone at work, and even protecting someone from another person’s vendetta. On the other hand, it means not protecting someone from the natural consequences of their behavior after they’ve been warned and they persist. When someone gets argumentative and yells at you, you don’t give in to the urge to yell back. People see that, and it can cause some friction.
But They Can’t Treat Me Like That!
“But they will [have to] give an account to Him who is ready to judge and pass sentence on the living and the dead. For this is why the good news [of salvation] was preached [in their lifetimes] even to those who are dead, that though they were judged in the flesh as men are, they may live in the spirit according to [the will and purpose of] God.” 1st Peter 4: 5-6
The “Him” is Jesus. Those who are still alive and those who are dead have had their chances until the day it’s lights out. Remember Why Should I Forgive where I taught that we’re all going to be held accountable?
Here we may be condemned by human standards as we live for God. That is better than being condemned by God’s standards when you consider Matthew 10:28 when Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” It’s scary and comforting depending on where you stand.
So How Am I Supposed To Respond?
“The end and culmination of all things is near. Therefore, be sound-minded and self-controlled for the purpose of prayer [staying balanced and focused on the things of God so that your communication will be clear, reasonable, specific and pleasing to Him.]” 1st Peter 4: 7
First, stay balanced and focused on the things of God. The early Christians were united under this all encompassing truth, Jesus Christ is God, and the only way to enter a relationship with God. Despite what some believe, the Council of Nicea didn’t think all this up in 325 AD.
Consider this quote from Tertullian who lived in the years between 160-225 AD as he described Christians: “We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This strong exertion God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation.”
They were living it after Peter wrote about it a century earlier. Tertullian lived in North Africa so the message was spreading. There is more, too.
“Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best for others].” 1st Peter 4: 8
Again we look at what Tertullian had to say: “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. ‘See’, they say, ‘how they love one another’, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. ‘See’, they say about us, ‘how they are ready even to die for one another’, for they themselves would sooner kill.”
Note the contrasts—one was loving, the other driven by hatred; the self-sacrifice where another would rather kill than die. In the Apology of Aristides, that love is expanded on: “They abstain from all impurity in the hope of the recompense that is to come in another world. As for their servants or handmaids or children, they persuade them to become Christians by the love they have for them; and when they become so, they call them without distinction, brothers. They do not worship strange gods; and they walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another. When they see the stranger they bring him to their homes and rejoice over him as over a true brother; for they do not call those who are after the flesh, but those who are in the Spirit and in God.”
They lived pure lives and it was noticed. Those of a lower cultural status were loved and treated as equals, and because of that they wanted to know more. Do you go from church to the restaurant where you yell at the server or complain bitterly? That’s also noticed and that’s not a good thing.
“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12 NIV
They were kind and humble, not hung up on pretense with lives of honesty and integrity. Depending on where they were, they would stick out like a sore thumb or shine like a beacon. Pick your metaphor. They welcomed strangers with open arms, which leads to verse 9:
“Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”
Again from Aristides on how they dealt with those in need around them: “And there is among them a man that is poor and needy and if they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days, that they may supply the needy with the necessary food.”
I’m not sure I’m even comfortable with not eating for a couple of days so a stranger could eat. That is a pure self-sacrificial love that is rarely seen these days. To give from your abundance is one thing, to give all you have at the moment, though? Why would they do it?
Here’s Tertullian again: “Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . not spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession.”
They gave freely. Paul in 2 Corinthians 8: 1-9 wrote about the poor Macedonian churches’ generosity. Later in 2 Corinthians 9:7 he wrote, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
In Luke 21: 3-4, Jesus said of the widow who placed two copper coins into the temple treasury, “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” He praised her generous heart.
The church was the center of the social programs, not the government. In fact, the Roman government did little to help it’s citizens during a plague. It was the Christians who cared for them and some ultimately died while caring for them.
Who else feels only two inches tall?
The church supported people in their needs, so that should cause us to ask ourselves if the church you go to is ministering to the sick, poor, and homeless? They supported poor kids and orphans, does yours have a food pantry that provides aid? I love the Share Your Lunch program; I’ve watched it make a difference at FirstNLR. Last year, we gathered over 30 tons of food in 9 weeks, and took an offering that made sure 180 kids were fed every weekend when they weren’t at school. This year, we’re feeding 300 kids, and gathered 14.5 tons of food in four weeks. If every church in the city did that, then there would be no one going to bed hungry.
The sick and elderly should be looked in on, it’s not just the pastor’s job. Like what they did in Acts 6: 1-7— a ministry was started to reach out to the community. It should be relatively simple for you to do that. The early church was made up of average people like my cousin Whitney who started a ministry to help hungry people in Arkansas because she saw a need.
When disaster struck, they reached out. Pastor Randy’s sermon on Amos gave the reason why when he said, ‘the body of Christ is the resource, the church is the program, and the application is ‘loving your neighbor as you love yourself’. Jesus told his disciples before he sent them out, ‘freely you have received, so freely give.’ Pastor Rod calls it open-handed living. Because you don’t hold on tight to your position or possessions, you can more easily give it to another if needed.
Don’t think you can do it?
“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” 1 Peter 4:11 NIV
It’s about teaching and reaching, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 to let the light shine so that man will praise the God we serve. To live a life of integrity, with good and noble deeds, along with careful speech (Ephesians 4:29). People will see and one day when you get to Heaven you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:23 NIV
I’m going to pause here and remind you that salvation is by faith alone in what Jesus did on the cross. This is that faith in action rather than the dead faith James wrote about in James 1:26-27 and 2:17. It’s the life change I was telling you about in the beginning.
That is what high-impact Christianity looks like. In the next post we’ll get into how the world may respond to a person living that life and how we can continue on. Don’t you want to make a mark on the world?