I remember one day 'noticing' one aspect of Jesus' baptism, which, like all really good rabbit trails, led me to check out parallel and related passages. Notice these verses:
It began to dawn on me how great this love must be. As a father myself, I knew how joyous the feeling was when someone praised my children, or asked me for something to bless them with, or asked me to even talk about them.
And slowly, but slowly, I began to see the Father's heart.
How he delighted when I praised His Son to His face in prayer, bragging on His victories in my life, on the matchless grace He manifests in my life, on the power of that awesome blood. How He was so attentive to my prayers, when I asked Him to 'give someone to His Son as a gift, for Him to delight in and redeem and mold and shape according to His good pleasure' or when I lifted up a difficulty in my life as an opportunity for His Son to manifest His glory, grace, goodness, power, fullness, patience. Oh, how He delights to 'brag about His Son' in my life-through the Spirit's ministry of the Word in my heart, through the testimony of other Family members, through the lessons of providence, through the rigors of study.
This has so shaped my practice of prayer, and I have a glimpse now of why 'Christ-centered' prayer is so effective-we are praying to a proud Father!
I have always had a struggle with individualism and community. Due to "mal-adaptive" responses in my early years (a euphemism for emotionally distorted childhood and adolescence), I have always tended to be a 'lone wolf'. My best efforts to the contrary have produced only marginal results, although I probably labor under the bondage of stereotypical notions of 'normalcy' as most. And so the notion of community and the 'body' and of self-determinism in ethics and of individual conscience has always been an intriguing and less-than-resolved issue in my life.
I knew from rudimentary sociology and psychology that the individual seeks a reference-group: a group in which I can say 'I belong, because I am more like them in critical ways than I am like other groups'. In this context, strangely enough, I was supposed to come to a better sense of 'self' -of my individuality. I was to know what I was both like and un-like. And in this process I would have both the Aristolelian 'class within which' and the 'differences from'.
Biblically, the case was stronger and even more robust, but still (as most really good Bible answers) raises a number of questions to be worked out over time in interaction with God in history. The Bible had a great deal to say about the individual 'standing up against the group norms'-the lives of the prophets exemplified that, the stories of the Good Samaritan colored it, and the lives of Apostles in Acts put blood into it (cf. Acts 5.29 and aftermath). Indeed, the follower of Jesus was even supposed to 'just say no' to his own demands! (cf. Mt 5.29ff). Indeed, the case for individual conscience was very strong: "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." (Rom 14.5).
But the biblical case for the group was equally (if not more) strong.
It started with the Trinity. We were literally modeled (Gen 1,2) after it. Humanity-the-group (male and female) is in the likeness of God, as are the humanity-as-individuals. In the trinity, you have three separate consciousnesses existing in the tightest personal community possible (of shared existence-essence!) The three persons are all God by their "shared community" (i.e. the divine nature), yet the Persons are distinct from one another as can be seen in their interactions. Although this understanding of 'image and likeness' is a bit metaphysical for the texts in Gen, subsequent passages support this view generally. [For example, in the image in Jas 3.9 the notion is apparently ontic, and arguments of the type of "as God does, so do ye" imply such a model as well.]
Then, the passages which address humanity as a corporate whole (e.g. Rom 5), or the church as 'the body of Christ', or whole nations (e.g. Moab), or whole cities (e.g. Mt 10.15) seem VERY strange to our individualized Western Culture. But community-solidarity is actually of critical moment to the believer-who is saved "IN CHRIST"! It is only by our union with Him that we partake in the blessings of glory that the Father promised to Him. I Cor 1.30: "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."-we share His standing with Father, as the only human who ever fulfilled the Law in its entirely and therefore deserved heaven and the covenant blessings. We share His righteousness (II Cor 5.21), His holiness (I Cor 1.30), His election (Rom 16.13; Eph 1.11), His redemption from the grave/death (I Cor 1.30).
We are individuals who are only truly individual when we are somehow in community. We may be lone-wolf types, but we must always be involved with others. We may be cut off by circumstance or family from experiencing a 'reference group', but we must always understand that there IS a circle to which we belong.
Philosophically, this means that a group is MORE than a simple collection of individuals-it has a group-identity (or existence as a unit) somehow. This is similar to the notion that a picture is more than just the sum of the pixels-we 'blend' them into something COMPLETELY different-a picture of the Mona Lisa. [It is for this reason that we need BOTH psychology AND sociology: psychology addresses the individual pole in the unit-group spectrum, and likewise, sociology addresses the 'groups-as-units' phenomenon. This is a bit simplistic, of course, since both disciplines describe their respective 'subjects' in terms of their relationship with the other 'subject.']
I know I am not a healthy "individual" when I am isolated from community for long period, and by the same token, I know that I am not a healthy 'community member' when I am not standing as an individual within that group on a regular basis.
I MUST cultivate a private, personal, individual relationship with my Lord, and I MUST cultivate a public, group, community relationship with the "Head of the Body, that is, Christ."
We are simply 'built from the ground up' to be related to God as an individual AND as a group. We may iterate between these poles in our life (as creatures of extremes it may be inevitable), but I learned I must take this individual-community spectrum seriously.
There is this rather clear injunction in scripture that I tend to 'run away from' by omission-not deliberately. It shows up in Col 3.23: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." and Eph 6.6f: Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free..
Note that these passages were written to slaves (and probably certain classes of hired workers). These workers had a rather clear 'master' and set of objectives to fulfill, but they were told to (1) do their job with enthusiasm and (2) as if the Lord personally were their immediate supervisor.
I noticed that they were not commanded to LIKE their job, but to DO IT with enthusiasm-fully, with all of their heart, "once more, with vigor". And I noticed that they were supposed to do it 'as if' there were no intermediate link. In other words, they were to do it as if the Lord Himself had appeared and given an audible command.
Granted, the verses and context indicated that they were supposed to try and 'please the master'-even in those circumstances where the master was a Christian and the servant-master relationship continued for some reason(cf. Philm).But they were specifically instructed to go beyond this-and try to please the Lord in the task at hand.
I so struggled with this early on. I did not particularly delight in my work-I would rather be doing other things-nor did I particularly hate it. But I was not supposed to base the quality of my effort at it on my (fickle) emotional orientation toward it! It was supposed to be seen as a task that God had orchestrated into my life, for my good somehow-or for the good of others somehow.
It was NOT my job to evaluate each task beforehand to determine is potential contribution to the kingdom before allocating resources to it! I was simply to do it, subject to conscience issues of course-Acts 5.29, but to do it with quality, craftsmanship, and some level of gusto. I was also supposed to 'relativize' it-to place it in the context of the other commands of the Lord. This meant that office work was somehow to be balanced with family tasks, and church tasks, and social tasks, and so on.
But I wondered 'why' as unto the Lord and 'why' heartily. What was the nature of work that warranted that type of approach (I would have had to do it anyway, whether I understood it or not, of course, but often He will clue us in on the rationale-but that is another lesson).
It was too easy to cynically say that it was all just a 'trial' and therefore for our good (!), although there are days, mind you, when that would seem a foregone conclusion! But the things that keep me from such an obvious approach were the biblical statement-"for you serve the Lord Christ" and two images from the Christmas song--The Little Drummer Boy and the movie "Chariots of Fire". Let me deal with the latter first.
There is a section somewhere in the Little Drummer Boy in which the little boy, who has observed the rich gifts of the Three Wise Men, says:
I have no gifts to bring, ha-rum-pa-ta-tum
I play by drum for Him, ha-rum-pa-ta-tum.
When I reflected upon this, I realized the nature of his "gift"-he did what he did best (or, what was at hand), but for the pleasure and entertainment of the King-in-swadling. His played with all his might and skill (cf. I Chrn 13.8: David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets. ). So too, I may not be able to offer much, but I can "do strategic planning" for Him, I can have fun with my kids for Him, I can do housework heartily for Him.
He sees the work I do-whenever I compromise quality inappropriately (recognizing that there are times He wishes me to settle for limited objectives-that is a responsibility of good stewardship), when I do it ONLY to 'please my earthly master', whenever I do it 'as unto my self-esteem' instead 'as unto His enjoyment and delight', when I do it so begrudgingly (and He subsequently blesses the work!).
Which brings to mind the line from the movie "Chariots of Fire"-where the Christian Olympian is explaining to his sister why he must run in the Olympics before going off to missionary work in China: "Jenny, God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His good pleasure." How often I have experienced that in my life, and never learned from it. I have done some work, some writing, some meeting and it was well-crafted, high-excellence, elegant simplicity-and I sensed His good pleasure. But did I learn from that? How many years did it take before I realized that EVERY TASK I DO could be in that category of pleasing Him-if only I would manifest the image of God in me AS I DID IT?! If every speech I gave, if every paper I wrote, if every meeting I had was done as "I play my drum for Him"!
When I first realized this, my life was flooded in brilliant significance. Now, the simplest of acts-washing dishes, cleaning my apartment, paying my bills-ALL become offerings to Him. They don't have to be perfect, just done with Him in mind. By simply focusing on doing my best work with the resources available (without losing perspective on 'limited objectives') I can honor Him in the most 'secular-looking' work imaginable.
And, remember the passage said, "for you serve the Lord Christ." Somehow, some way, the work I do advances the Kingdom-not just by the example-to-others testimony concept (cf. I Thess 4.12; 2 Cor 8.21; 1 Peter 2.12)-but by simple manifestation of the character of Christ.
What became clear to me is that one of the 'theological' ways that God moves the universe forward to the eventuation of the Kingdom of God is through the manifestation of His character as revealed in His Son. In other words, the more the character of Christ is displayed/proclaimed in history (e.g. through preaching of the Word, the lives of Christians), the more evil is 'pushed down' or held at bay. If we are able to manifest the character of Christ in our approach to work, this display (although non-verbal) somehow moves righteousness along. So, even the carpentry work that the early Jesus did, moved the kingdom along because it was done with quality and excellence in mind-as a gift to the Father. All the good we do-whether or not it is attached to words (although that is preferable)-somehow helps. Hence Paul can write: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. (Phil 4.8).
We generally think of offering our lives up in terms of "Christian Service", but the NT is much, much broader than that-"whatEVER you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord".
I generally will grasp the ennobling power of this lesson only a few times a year-and then tend to slowly 'drift off' in my awareness of it each day. But I aspire to awake each day, to each task (regardless of how much I like or detest the task), with "okay, Lord, here comes another quality piece of work for You to delight in"-"I play my drum for you".
Leviticus 10:10 reads You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean.
One of the first things you learn as a young bible student is that 'holy' means 'different' or 'separate'-set of for the disposal/use of God. The OT word usage is very vivid in this-whole cities that God judged and ear-marked for destruction were called 'holy' (i.e. different from other cities, separated unto God, for His disposal and usage). The sacred shrine prostitutes of the pagan nations which God used Israel to displace, were called 'holy'. In itself the word 'holy' did NOT carry ethical content; that ethical dimension was determined by the "Thing" the item was "separated unto"-if it was God, the separation unto generally resulted in 'holiness' as we commonly use the word. If it was unto a pagan deity or unto an evil purpose, then the separation was of a wholesale evil character.
God was called 'holy'-He was different, separate from the creation, other.
When a thing was 'dedicated to YHWH' it BECAME different-even though it looked, acted, seemed the same. What was different about it was a changed relationship that it had to its environment. BEFORE the separation, it was connected primarily with the created Universe (and only secondarily with God); AFTER the separation, it was connected primarily with the Creator (and secondarily with the universe).
The holiness vs common distinction, then, is NOT between 'good' and 'bad'; but between 'dedicated' and 'non-dedicated'; between the 'separated and attached to a God' versus 'not attached to a God'. This distinction turns out to be very important in understanding many areas of the Christian life (e.g Rom 12.1-2).
There are a couple of dimensions of this holiness worthy of notice.
Notice first that holiness DID NOT mean removal from the world. The Tent of Meeting was holy. The sacrifices that the worshippers ate in celebration were holy. The firstborn of the womb was holy. The camp itself was holy. All these things were dedicated/separated unto the Lord (in some special way) that the other items were not. Yet all these things were still 'in the world'-they were not transported to heaven or hidden away in some monastery or not subject to the laws of physics-they were simply in a special relationship to God.
Second, things were not generally created holy; a personal individual had to 'dedicate it'-as God did the 7th day in Gen 2:3. Men and women could dedicate themselves to God (the Nazarite vow), as they could their children (e.g. Hannah and Samuel), and their possessions. Even unclean animals could be so dedicated-Lev 27:11. Things (and persons) were dedicated by people who were ALREADY members of the covenant community (by faith), So Christians (members of the family of God by faith) are still called on in the NT to 'dedicate themselves' unto God (Rom 6,12).
Finally, the nature of this separation was for God's disposal/use-whether to serve in the temple (e.g. the priests were called holy) or to cause celebration and rejoicing among His people (e.g. the sacrifices that the worshippers feasted on were called 'holy'). It is the "Father, I give my life to you, do with me what you will" or the "Lord, I dedicate my life to you, use me in your purposes however You deem best" types of commitments.
There are many "personal" benefits of doing this with one's life. Obviously, God "gets involved" in more details and is more visible in the overall patterns of one's life, if He is so invoked. But also, God is very much more 'protective' of His resource-we cannot treat the 'holy' as we do the 'common'. Remember Exodus 19.23: Moses said to the LORD, "The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, `Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.'" with Exodus 19.12:
12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, `Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.
13 He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.' Only when the ram's horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.". Many times God reminded the Israelites to recognize His special involvement with these holy things (cf. Ex 30.36f; 31.15; Lev 19.8)
Now, there are several implications of this for us.
One. If "holy" means "different" then a Christian's life should be "different" (not just "weird"!).
Two. Our difference must be related to our relationship to God-He is the one who made Israel 'different' (Ex 31.13; Lev 20.8; Lev 11.44f).
Three. We must recognize that God wants to be treated differently than our other personal relations-and if we don't, that He will SHOW US the difference Himself(!)-Lev 10.3; Lev 22.32.
Four. "Difference" CAN be contagious. In Lev 6.18,22, if a person touches certain holy things, then they became 'different' themselves (at least for a certain length of time). The world we 'touch' should likewise be different if we are different ourselves.
Five. "Difference" CAN be dangerous. Paul gives us a sobering passage about one form of "involuntary holiness"-the Christian's body. If we take the passage in I Cor 3.16, which talks about the corporate body (e.g. the Church): Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple., and link that up with I Cor 6.18: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body., we get a rather serious situation. We must be conscious in how we live our lives that God somehow dwells inside the spirit of a believer. And we must consequently remember that this is not a light matter-God takes it rather seriously, and we had best do the same.
All in all, the lifetime process of becoming more and more "dedicated and different" has important ripple-effects in the lives of others, in our own choices, and in our relationship to the source of our holiness-God.
The best picture I have ever seen of this derivative character of holiness is the glowing face of Moses. In Ex 34.29ff:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD's presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.And we know that this radiance would wear off over time (2 Cor 3.13: "We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away."). The point is that this difference was obvious and clearly derived from spending time with God 'face to face' (or in the NT era, "heart to heart").
God's difference was contagious-it rubbed off on Moses. May the loving and righteous character of our Lord rub off on us, as we spend time with Him in our day-to-day experiences.