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The world admires the powerful, the successful, the tough and the brash, the achievers and the go-getters. But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” who are humble before God.
“Blessed are the meek,” who are humble towards one another.
The world’s model, like that of the 19th century German philosopher, Nietzsche, is the super-man, tough and overbearing. But the model of Jesus is still the little child.
The world is concerned with appearances, external conformity to conventions, rules and regulations. But Jesus again and again talks about the heart, “The pure in heart,” or “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The world says, “Sex is for fun, enjoyment without commitment.” But Jesus says, “Sex is for love, enjoyment within commitment.”
The world’s philosophy is, “Give as good as you get. Love those who love you and repay evil for evil.” But Jesus still says, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who hate you, overcome evil with good.”
The mind-set of the world is extremely materialistic, covetous for consumer goods. But Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious about what to eat and drink and wear. Instead, seek first God’s rule and God’s righteousness.”
We have no liberty to dismiss the teachings of Jesus as unpractical and unrealistic, or to convert it into a prudential little middle-class respectability. No, no, Jesus still says to us, “You’ve got to choose. Nobody can serve two masters.” We have to choose between him and the world—between the broad road that leads to the destruction and the narrow way that leads to life.
But are the followers of Jesus interested only in themselves and one another, and let the rest of the world go hang? No. Jesus told us to be the salt and light of the world. That is, he means us to permeate secular society, seeking to arrest its social decay, as the salt hinders decay in fish and meat. He means us to be the light of the world, shining into the darkness of its tragedy and evil.
You know the name, perhaps, of Robert Bellah, who is a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley, and also head of the Center of Japanese and Korean Studies there. In an interview with him some years ago, I read to my astonishment that he said this: “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a new vision of a just and gentle world. In Japan a very small minority of Protestant Christians introduced ethics into politics and had an impact beyond all proportion to their numbers. They were central in the beginnings of the women’s movement, labor unions, and virtually every reform movement.” Then he added: “The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.” Now we are many more than two percent. We could have a far greater impact on society if we were truly the salt and the light of the world.
Sharing the good news of Jesus is not to be the hobby of a few eccentric enthusiasts. Mission is the concern of every follower of Jesus.
But there is a precaution that I need to add. To proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus is one thing; to proclaim the superiority of Western Civilization or ecclesiastical culture is something quite, quite different.
The 19th Century missionaries were great in their self-sacrifice and their courage, and we honor them for their devotion. Would that we had half their zeal for Christ! But with the benefit of hindsight, we have to say that they made a grave mistake in confusing the gospel with culture. The most striking example I have found is in West Africa, where I have seen with my own eyes Gothic spires rising above the coconut palms and Anglican bishops sweating copiously in Medieval European dress. And I’ve heard African tongues trying to speak Jacobean English. It’s ludicrous.
Stanley Jones, who was himself an American Methodist missionary to India, put it strikingly. At the end of his book, The Christ of the Indian Road, he writes, “There is a beautiful Indian marriage custom, that dimly illustrates our task in India and where it ends. At the wedding ceremony in India, the women friends of the bride accompany her with music to the home of the bridegroom. They usher her into the presence of the bridegroom, but that is as far as they can go. They then retire and leave her with him. “And that,” he says, “is our joyous task in India. To know Him, to introduce Him, and then to retire. Not necessarily geographically, but to trust India with Christ, and trust Christ with India. We can only go so far. He and India must go the rest of the way.”
Our concern as followers of Jesus is neither with a religion called “Christianity,” nor with a culture called “Western Civilization,” but with a person, Jesus of Nazareth, the one and only God-man who lived a perfect life of love, died on the cross for our sins, bearing in his own person the condemnation that we deserve, was raised in triumph from the grave and is now alive, accessible and available to us through the Holy Spirit. He is also coming again one day in sheer magnificence, that every knee should bow to him. That is the Person with whom we are concerned.
To be “in Christ” is to find personal fulfillment, to enjoy brotherly unity, and to experience a radical transformation. Only then can we become the world’s salt and light, sharing the good news with others, making an impact on society, and above everything else seeking to bring honor and glory to his wonderful Name.