August 4, 2012

The Least of These V: The Currency In God's Economy

The Currency of God: Mercy & Grace

Although the Kingdom was/is imminent, it could only arrive for people through a radical acceptance of God’s divine demands such as Matthew 19’s Rich Man and the Kingdom where Jesus tells him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

This man therefore leaves and is never heard from again. Even Jesus Disciples are dumbfounded by this and Jesus in turn tells them… Matthew 19:23-24 ~“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is in these verses that we sense the paradox of the reversal or equalization of social order in God’s Kingdom. We see profoundly that the change is affected only through God's power. This is clearly elucidated in Mark 10:26-27:

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

It is in these two verses and one’s similar to them that we glimpse a profound truth of the Bible that ties a combination of things together in a coherent manner. It ties the eventual divestment of riches or worldly items/things to gain access to the Kingdom. Not a divestment as a form of work but as a fruit of the Spirit. As the old saying goes, “We are not taking any of it with us” or “You never see a U-Haul attached to a Hearst”. In Jesus’ new economy based in righteousness, the disciple or follower that placed the compassion first rather than things like greed or material goods was to be the basis for this new Kingdom (Batey 18). The believer themselves become the currency or medium of God’s mercy and grace to the poor and those suffering in society. When Jesus was here He was the vehicle for the Father but now that He has ascended and sat down at the right hand of the Father this has now been commanded of believers (Matthew 28:19-20).

Although my resource didn’t state it, I am surmising from the implications of the biblical principles that this is because nothing will be taken with us except things of eternal significance that can survive the fires of judgment (1 Corinthians 3:12). It is in our salvation and out-workings of it that we invariably see arrows pointing to some form of manifestation of the Kingdom itself. It is an alignment of human will to divine will. Human will, when aligned to God’s will,  produces that which is holy and does not end up “missing the mark” or sinning against God.  A perfectly just God cannot look upon injustice therefore sin without judging it. If human behavior is not in alignment with God’s will it is therefore not holy and therefore not acceptable to God. If not acceptable to God it will not be allowed into the Kingdom. This means that advocacy for the poor is just one of many manifestations of the Spirit that would be acceptable in the Kingdom. It must be noted at that it is not the riches themselves or the economic condition so much as it is the effects that they have on the hearts and the condition of a person’s soul which is the final indicator of which side or right or wrong the person stands with God. In the end we must understand that it is nothing that is done solely by man’s motives that creates a change for the positive, it is the alignment to God’s will and Spirit working through a believer. As stated before, the Kingdom of God should be defined as anywhere that God’s will reigns fully in a believer(s) life and where his enemies are put beneath the feet of his king [Jesus] (Moore et al 76). Therefore, it is also anywhere that a believer’s will and God’s will exist harmoniously and revolve around Jesus Christ, His teachings and His ministry. In this way we begin to see that Jesus Christ and faith in Him is the greatest equalizer for humanity as all are one and equal in Christ.

Galatians 3:26-28~ You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

So, it is in faith solely in Jesus Christ that people were/are challenged to accept God’s promise through the acceptance of Scripture’s radical demand. A demand that sometimes requires humanity to divorce oneself from worldliness for their own spiritual good (this includes riches). This is not an advocating of a conditional salvation by works but rather an outworking of obedience to God in that faith. In other words, Jesus is saying here that part of giving over to obedience is as simple as “loving one’s neighbor as one’s self”. If we truly have salvation in us we will literally love the poor and it will make us want to, serve, give or help them until they are at least in alignment with where we are at in equality. We see this also in Mark 10’s comparison and Luke 18’s demand to forsake everything for the sake of the Kingdom. The truth is that God can’t fully use a person as a true vessel until they’ve reached this state anyway. This therefore means that those who embraced the promise of the kingdom enjoyed the full fellowship that this union with God and Christ-centered people affords.  It is a type of fellowship or communal aspect of the Kingdom (koinonia) that expresses itself in common purse held by Judas in John 12:6 and John 13:29 (Hendriksen, “John” 248-249). We also saw it in Acts 2 after Christ’s ascension in the teaching, fellowship and praying of the disciples.

Acts 2:42-47”… And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Now imbued with the Holy Spirit we see Jesus' followers maintain what he had taught and instilled in them thereby perpetuating and carrying on the essence of the Kingdom. In particular we see them, “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” The implication from Scripture is that they were waiting for the return of Christ and the Kingdom in full.

Unity: Have In You the Mind of Christ

Christ or the mind of Christ therefore works through the society of like-minded believers (church) that all find their bearing and source of thinking and morality in Jesus….i.e.: A Christian society…the Kingdom. It is not society (secular society) per se that is the solution to the issues of such as poverty but a Christian society that is the solution. If they are Christian they are already saved. If they are saved their actions are out-working or fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we align to God’s will and we have His Spirit and therefore His salvation in us, we can essentially affect the change that eliminates the sufferings in society like poverty. The sad fact is that we know that this cannot happen fully until Christ’s return but we can make pockets of change in a system ruled by Satan until He returns.

In the end we see that Jesus is the force or impulsion and we are the vessels to carry this out. It is only when we align our wills to his that this can be accomplished. This can only be done through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit when it works in many believers forms fellowship in the Body of Christ. This fellowship in the Body of Christ if it becomes large enough becomes a Christian society. This society, when it sees its ultimate perfect or culmination then becomes the Kingdom as it is meant to be. This of course is constantly being battled by the powers and principalities of this world which are under the control and is the current domain of Satan. As it stands now, even partially present through humanity, the Kingdom mounts a serious challenge to Satan that he cannot ignore (Christian 201). Until Christ comes in power and removes that parasite (Satan) and reigns in power, the Kingdom will never fully arrive and we will remain in the proverbial “now but not yet” of the Kingdom. Christ’s Kingdom has therefore been initiated (Inaugurated Eschatology) but it has not reached completion or fullness (Realized Eschatology).

Jesus’ Teachings of the Reversal or Equalizing of the Social Order

We must note that God is not specifically favoring the poor when they are singled out for special care but rather they are being treated like the human beings that they truly are. They are given the love they should've gotten as people created in God's image all along. As aforementioned in the section on the Kingdom, the idea of reversal or at least normalizing/equalizing of the social order are found in many of Jesus' sayings about the first shall be last (Matthew 19:30; Mark 10:31 & Luke 13:30), we see the idea of being lowered to be exalted in Philippians 2:5-11 (Batey 18-19; Christian 177-179). We see this summarized no better than in:

Luke 6:20-21 “Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”

This is similar to the rebuke given in James 2 towards those that would give preferential treatment based on the look or status of a believer that only appeared rich while simultaneously marginalizing or treating a shabbily dressed man poorly. We also see that Jesus teaches that the, “greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” as in Luke 22:26. It is in this way that we see the behaviors of those with a Christ-like mind are helping manifest the Kingdom and the true heart of God. If God in His humility lowered Himself and made Himself of no accord and allowed himself to crucified on a cross and take the role of a servant to gain man salvation, are we to be or should we be any different? Are we not therefore emulating Christ in his supreme manner serving others (Batey 19; Christian 177-179)?

This now leads to the early church and the second half of this paper which is the immediate fallout or effects of Christ’s ministry on the Apostolic Church and the Apostle Paul’s ministry which is our only biblical source for how the church itself is to act towards or react to the poor and poverty.

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