Friday, 6 August 2010

How to live as a Christian in this world


Followers of Jesus are called to be citizens of another kingdom, of another world, while living in this world.

Some Christians withdraw completely from this world. They form tight communities, apart from the world. They may ignore the world, or they may occasionally go out on a mission into the world. 
Other Christians end up so identifying with this world that it is very hard to see what is different and unique about them: we end up with folk religion or even civic religion - where the purpose of the church is to bless what is.

But this passage gives us some hints as to how we are to live as citizens of another world in this world.

  1. Don’t be afraid: we have a hope
Jesus has been speaking words to people who have nothing. They are anxious about the essentials of life: what they will eat, drink and wear. He has just said, ‘Seek God’s Kingdom first’ and all these things will be ‘added to you’ (Luke 12:31: the Greek word really does mean 'added to you', and not 'given' as in the TNIV translation). And ‘added to you’ does not mean that they will be given to us here and now. They do mean that they will be added to our account.

Jesus explains what that means in his other teachings. 
He has already said, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied’. (Luke 6:20-21) When? Not necessarily now. But in the Kingdom.
And in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says to the rich man, who is in Hades, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish’ (Luke 16:25).

We live in a fallen world. We live in a world of great injustice. We live in a world in which there are famines and devastating monsoons; in which people will be killed for Jesus’ sake. Only this week I read in the church press about 10 Nigerian Christians killed in an attack on a church; and of 2 Pakistani Christian brothers, shot down while they were outside their church. Jesus does not say that if you are faithful to him, that if you seek his kingdom, you will always have something to eat and drink and wear, that life will go well for you.

But he is saying, and this is the key, and he is saying it to people who have nothingthat we do not need to be anxious or worried – because our heavenly Father knows and loves and will give us the Kingdom.

Of course the faithful Christian mother or father in the Sudan, watching helplessly as their child dies of malnutrition, will be worried. There is the worry that makes us do things; that causes the adrenaline to flow, and us to take action. But there is the worry that eats us up, and that is powerless. That worry, as Jesus says, will do nothing. And if they have set their heart and mind on his Kingdom, then in the intense pain they will also have amazing hope. God has promised to give them his Kingdom. And his Kingdom is a place of justice, of joy, of love, of life and of abundance.

‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’. (Luke 12:32)

So to people who have nothing he says that as Christians we live as people who have hope.

What then about us who have so much?
What does Jesus say to us? How should we live?


  1. Set our hearts on a true treasure (Luke 12:34)
The treasure of this world is stuff. We are material girls and boys who live in a material world.
Our identity, security and value is determined by the stuff that we have. ‘The one with the most toys, wins’.

But as people who live as citizens of God’s kingdom, we are urged to seek the treasure that is of the kingdom and not the treasure of this world.

The problem with the treasure of this world is that it
a)      grows old: oddly, in our society, that often makes something more precious! But in the end the stuff that we rely on becomes useless
b)      fails us: we rely on it, and it does not meet our need or give us satisfaction
c)      can be taken away from us: Jesus here talks about thieves who steal. Often, after some of our stuff has been stolen, we say that we feel we have been personally violated. Why? Because we identified ourself with that stuff.
d)      can be destroyed: here Jesus talks about moths destroying. We had that happen. In London we had a plague of moths who ate through clothes and even the felt on the piano. You can have the most precious expensive designer label coat, and a single moth can destroy it.

As people of the other kingdom who live in this kingdom, we can give great thanks for the things that God has given us here and now. But do not set your heart on them, and certainly do not believe that they are the measure of your identity, security and value. They will cause you anxiety, and they will let you down.



Instead, says Jesus, seek the true treasure. Seek forgiveness for making stuff our God; seek intimacy with him; seek the Holy Spirit. We read that a couple of weeks ago, from Luke 11:13. Having talked about how human fathers give good gifts to their children, Jesus says, ‘how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’ Seek the things of God, the Kingdom of God.


  1. Live Kingdom values: and specifically the value of generosity
Jesus says (Luke 12:33), ‘Sell your possessions and give to the needy’

There are two reasons for giving:
a)      giving is at the heart of God. God gives. He gives us this world. He gives us life. He gives us Jesus. He gives us his Spirit. He gives us the Kingdom. The more a person gives of themselves and of their possessions, the more they become like God. 
To give freely, generously, abundantly is to be God-like. To give is to LIVE 



b)      the Kingdom of God is about justice. If I have and someone does not have, for whatever reason, we give. If I have two coats and someone has no coat, I give them a coat. We’ve probably perfected that art in our society with charity shops: giving clothes that we never really needed away because now we don’t want them, and we need space to buy something new.  That is not giving; that is dumping. 
Giving is when we give something that is precious to us to someone else because they are in need. And for most of us, it really comes down to the giving of money. 


Of course we need to give wisely. Of course we need to be as strategic as we can in our giving. But we must not let that be an excuse for not giving.


There is a very simple test for us to discover what our treasure is. Can we let it go?

Helmut Thielike tells the story: I once heard of a child who was raising a frightful cry because he had shoved his hand into the opening of a very expensive Chinese vase and then couldn't pull it out again. Parents and neighbours tugged with might and main on the child's arm, with the poor creature howling out loud all the while. Finally there was nothing left to do but to break the beautiful, expensive vase. And then as the mournful heap of shards lay there, it became clear why the child had been so hopelessly stuck. His little fist grasped a paltry penny which he had spied in the bottom of the vase and which he, in his childish ignorance, would not let go.”


If we are to live as citizens of that Kingdom in this world, then we are to be marked by a willingness to let go of the things of this world.


  1. Keep alert: focussed on the King, and don’t let your light go out. (Luke 12:35-36)
It reminds me of some of those Jane Austin films, where the mansions are laid up, with dust covers over everything. Suddenly the servants are told that the owners are returning. They have to get the house ready.

To live as citizens of that Kingdom in this world, we need to be alert, waiting for the King, the master.

This passage is talking about the end of space and time as we know it, when Christ will return, bring this world to an end, and bring in his Kingdom.

But it is not saying that we need to sell everything and go off and wait on a mountain for him to return tomorrow. People have done that and they have got in difficulties because they have done that. Jesus is saying much more than that. 
He is saying that we need to have an expectancy: to live in the light that one day his Kingdom will come.
But he is also saying that, just as we are never off duty living in this world, so we are never off duty living as citizens of the Kingdom.

It doesn’t mean that we always need to be active in specifically Christian or church activity. Nor does it mean that you cannot take time out to be with the people you love or to be on your own. It does however mean that there is never a moment when we do not belong to him, or when he might call us to stop doing what we are doing and do something different for him. You can go on holiday as a Christian, but you cannot go on holiday from being a Christian. You can retire as a Christian, but you cannot retire from being a Christian. Some of us live split lives. We are Christians when we are here, but we are not Christians when we are there.

What Jesus is asking us to do is to live in this world knowing all the time that we are citizens of another world. It means that we recognise that all that we have in this world is a gift from God, that it is to be received with thanksgiving, and that it is to be used in his service. (cf. 1 Timothy 4:4f). It also means that we realise that this world is not ultimate.

That is why we are told to stay dressed and to keep our lamps burning (Luke 12:35).

So we are called to live, not apart from the world; not identical to the world, but as citizens of that Kingdom in this world. 
Don’t allow your Christian hope to be extinguished. Don’t allow the treasures of this world to become more important than the treasure of that world. Keep your faith alive. Do whatever it takes to keep it alive: regular worship and prayer, spending time with God, receiving communion, study of the bible, reading, the spiritual disciplines, meeting with others. 

This passage concludes with a warning and a blessing.
First, there is the warning for the person who does make this world their be-all and end-all; who does pursue the treasures of this world (wealth, fame, security, experiences). Jesus warns that when he returns he will be like the thief he mentioned earlier. He will come, and it will all be taken away from you. And you will have nothing left. (Luke 12:39)



And secondly, there is an even more astonishing reward for those who do live faithfully as citizens of that kingdom in this world. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37). Instead of sitting down and being served, he takes them to the place of honour, seats them, and  serves them. 

It does not happen, not in the world that we know.
Yet here is a master who loves his servants, and who wishes to bless them: by becoming what they were, so that they might become what he is.
Here is a heavenly Father who loves his children, who knows what we need, who provides for us but, more than that, who delights to give us the kingdom.

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