It is always hard to get a clear, outside view on our culture, and so we can start to treat as normal – healthy, even – the highly polished and picture-perfect presentation of human life that our celebrity obsessed times feed us. Since everyone we see is manicured, tailored, and airbrushed, we assume that that is how we should appear too – if not physically, then socially, and even spiritually.
So let’s look at an un-manicured picture of Christian life and leadership from another time.
- I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10). That’s not intended as a logical sequence, and certainly not as a ladder of increasing spirituality. Instead, there is a stubbornness in the way Paul refuses to glamorise the Christian life. The way he describes it, we shall never escape the reality of conforming to Jesus’ death, until we ourselves die.
- May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal 6:14). This is a painful, two-way mirror, which we only understand if we begin to comprehend the shame, the disgust, of crucifixion. For the Jewish leadership, it marked the victim out as a guilty blasphemer. For the Romans, a guilty rebel. In either case, the punishment was a revolting and humiliating visual aid of the penalty of not conforming.
Here’s the two-way mirror. Paul’s view of being a disciple is that we sign up for being rejected, despised, humiliated and treated with contempt. That’s what was good enough for Jesus, so it should be good enough for us. But at the same time, Paul’s view of the world, its dazzle and glamour, is as a horrifying rebel, a terrifying example of what living without Christ looks like.
That willingness to be an outsider to the glossy values of his day was burned into Paul from the moment of his blinding conversion. He was too dazed to look after himself, so Jesus put Paul in the care of Ananias, to whom he said ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ (Acts 9:15-16). And Paul never walked away from that double task, of witnessing to the cross, and walking in the way of the cross. He repeatedly held it out in front of younger Christians, and for all that his ministry was unique, he said it should be a template for them:
- Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.(Acts 14:21-23)
- Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Col 1:24)
- You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (1 Thess 1:6)
Is that the hallmark of how Christian discipleship is taught in your church?
- How does the 21st century view Christians like you and me? Is that a problem?
- How do you see the 21st Century? Is that a problem?
- When and where do you actually teach this hard lesson to young Christians?