Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Aliens and Strangers on Earth

Listen to the mindset of the Apostle:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have
sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is
gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.
Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to
depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for
you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and
I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that
through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on
account of me. Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the
gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in
my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man
for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who
oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you
will be saved-- and that by God. (Phil 1:20-28).

Paul saw himself merely as a vessel to be used up and disposed of in this world at the good pleasure of Christ. For him, "to live is Christ and to die gain." He rejected the notion that he should focus his energy and efforts on creating some kind of "Christian Society." Rather, his singular concern for himself was to be found faithful in defending and confirming the gospel (Phil 1:7); and his singular concern for his churches was that they "stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel."

He understood well that those who pin their hopes on the redeeming potential of this world have their minds set "on earthly things." He understood full well that, as Christians, we are to "set [our] minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:2-3). This mindset is diametrically opposed to those who pin their hopes on eartly kingdoms--because we are not citizens of this earth; "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:19-20). As a result, Paul's mindset was one of viewing this world as a temporary condition:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

While we are here, we act and behave as those who view the rest of the world as a dark place through which we are passing to which we bear the light of the gospel:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless
and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in
which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life
(Phil 2:14-16).

Yet we never quite make our home here. Instead we follow the example of those who went before us:

By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a
foreign country
; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with
him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with
foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . . . All these people were
still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised;
they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that
they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that
they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the
country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they
were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed
to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:9-16).

Sometimes that looks like "too heavenly minded; no earthly good":

Others were tortured and refused to be released [sound like that Baptist martyrdom complex], so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated--the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Heb 11:35-38).

It doesn't sound like these men were trying to build a "Christian Society"-- a kingdom of God on earth. Those who view the world through the lens of the NT writers tend to see things in contrasts between categories of good and evil, including the antipathy between the church and the world--earthly kingdoms and heavenly ones:

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the
control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19).

The entire world of man is divided into two categories and only two categories: Those who are of God and those who are of the wicked one. And all who have this mindset begin to see this life as a time and place to hold out the gospel as a light to those in darkness; and they, like Jude, sense an urgency over things like defending the purity of the gospel and battling against those who would distort it. Why? Because, as Paul so firmly believed, a distortion of the gospel does not--cannot--save. The gospel is about rescuing those in darkness from that darkness, and with us to be "trasferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col 1:13).

"Jesus, we've taken the liberty of creating a 'Christian Society' for you!"

"My kingdom is not of this world. . . . My kingdom is from another place."

"Jesus, shall we prepare a kingdom for you?"

"In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."

There are different ways to bring the world into the church. On one upswing of the pendulum is the modern Evangelical emphasis on introducing worldly concepts into the church, such as marketing gimmicks and "relevant" sermons" that focus more on corporate-seminar principles than the Word of God. On the opposite upswing of the pendulum are those who think the church's mission is to infiltrate the government, and to work with earthly kingdoms in legislating improvements to society, and in that way to prepare the kingdom of God for the return of Christ. But a
liens and strangers are not looking for ways to improve the usefulness of darkness. Rather, like the NT writers before them, they shun it and they recognize in it no redeeming quality.