Who are we following as we call others to follow Jesus?
May 2, 2007
Some years ago I read a brief article in a Christian magazine. Its title (roughly): “Others may; you may not.” In it the author calls God’s people to follow a different pathway than the one followed by many, even Christians.
This morning the Spirit made me keenly aware that God’s calling upon His servants is a calling with a difference, a way of life that is not the preferred path of most fellow-believers. It is a harder path, a more demanding path. It is the path that God chose for His Son, Jesus —the path that leads to suffering and “dying” in order that we may bear much fruit. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25) It is the path that the Father prepared for the apostle Paul and his companions which they followed so that he could write to the believers in Corinth: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Cor.4:10-12)
It is a path that Jesus offers to us, but one that we must choose. He calls us, His servants, to choose the path He Himself walked so that our lives like His will bear MUCH fruit to the honour of God’s holy name. But those who choose this path soon discover that it is the pathway of greatest and deepest JOY. (I grieve in my spirit that I have myself been a very slow learner in this particular lesson of Christian life and service.) As Jesus approached His cross, He spoke to His disciples concerning the joy that remained in His heart (John 15:11). It was this spirit of joy that so obviously kept Paul and other early Christians moving forward against significant opposition and suffering: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing….” (2 Cor.6:10a)
The biggest struggle that most of us have in today’s Christian scene is that we are surrounded by fellow-believers who live by the standards and values of this world, not the values and priorities of God’s kingdom. This worldly influence impacts us in more ways than we might be willing to admit. Their ways are like loud noise or an interference in our spiritual ears as we try to follow the One who taught His disciples: “”If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
How this struggle works out in everyday life is that without too much thinking on our part, we fall into line with the “normal” life-style and the accepted practices of the majority of believers around us. We take our cues from what they allow and do not allow in their lives. This wouldn’t be a problem if the majority of believers around us were themselves following Jesus’ way, rather than being ardent “disciples” or followers of today’s popular gurus and heroes.
So what I sense God is saying to us who are called to lead and minister in His name among the body of Christ is: Let’s recognise that we are “influencers” among the body of Christ, who must ourselves follow Christ if we are to call others to follow us in the Christian journey. (See Paul’s words in 1 Cor.11:1.) We may need to renew our commitment to follow Christ and to forsake for Christ’s sake the more popular and acceptable paths chosen and followed by many around us, even those also engaged in Christian service. We must first set our hearts against the standards of the world in order that we can set our hearts on thinking and doing the works of God.
This will probably involve some losses, for example, ridicule and even momentary rejection and accusations from some fellow-Christians (“You’re making the Gospel too hard for people to accept!”). But when we compare what we lose with what we gain both for God and for His kingdom as well as for ourselves, then our losses are like those the apostle Paul spoke about in Philippians 3:8 “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
The Spirit of Jesus is calling God’s servants to take our cues from the life and words of Christ so that we will bear much fruit including the fruit of joy and freedom in our own hearts. But we cannot do this without saying a firm and persistent “no” to the spirit of this world who entices us to go for the lowest common denominator in our standards of service and Christian living.
Graham M. Roberts