I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4: 1-3

 

People will be people. This common expression contains a lot of painful truth, for even on our good days, we humans are a challenging and a difficult collection of creatures. We often do things that cause friction to arise among us, and we too frequently seem to focus on the negativity of our interactions and relationships rather than spending our time gazing upon the extraordinary beauty and great wonder that God has given to each of us as His hands shaped us. Even in the body of faith in Christ, we are given to a form of individuality that leads to separation and eventually that distance brings about the isolation that is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against God’s people. Paul has seen all of this, and he understood the dangers that came from going through life on our own, and he also knew the importance of surrendering self to Christ and to each other in the process of living out God’s will for our lives.

 

At the center of the Apostle’s statement here are the powerful words humility and gentleness. These are simple words that convey very large concepts. Humility is perhaps the most striking singular descriptor that one can apply to Jesus. He was God in human form, King and Messiah come; yet, He was also simple, caring, observant of the lowliest of people, and always submissive to the will of the Father. Jesus was able to surrender all comfort, relinquish every ounce of pride, and grant worth and great dignity to people who were unlovely and without value in our earthly system of evaluating people’s place and position. Jesus walked this earth in a humble manner, but even more than that, He lived out His days as humility’s definition. In addition, Jesus’ humility found expression in the gentleness of His touch. He sought to bring about restoration of relationship with God by the way that He engaged with others. His gentleness was expressed even in contentious and difficult situations as Jesus did and said everything with redemption as the objective and healing as the desired outcome.

 

The manner of walking through life that Jesus employed and the humble and gentle way that He went about it are, frankly, beyond the capacity and the capability of almost all people. We certainly don’t function like this in our natural state of being. Yet, we are called by Christ to be like Him in all ways; so, this must include the God-given characteristics of humility and gentleness. These are gifts that Christ will give to us as we seek after them. They come to us as we set aside our own desires and yield to His Spirit. They also grow within us as we seek out others and engage with them in a manner that sets aside our wishes, wants, and preconceived ideas in order to enter into the deep places of their hearts and minds and to walk through the day in observant understanding of who they are and what is important to them. This sort of approach to life does make us vulnerable to hurt and to disappointment, but it also expands our understanding of people and also that of our Lord. As Paul states, humility and gentleness are qualities that lead us into the deep love that Christ has for all people, and they operate together with love as the glue that bonds us together with the sort of strength that stands up to all that the forces of this world can hurl our way.

So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua 11: 23

 

This is a bloody and gruesome chapter in the recitation of a series of similar events during the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. There is simply no escaping the brutal nature of these events except perhaps by considering all of this as some form of allegory, but I believe that this is a rendering of historical events. This is what actually happened. It is only from that perspective that I hold that there is also an allegorical application to it all. These were battles that God sent His people out to fight against others who were extremely hardened in their attitudes toward God. They were going to resist the Lord with all of their beings and for as long as time would run. These events occurred in a specific time and place, and they are not at all indicative of how God works in our world today.

 

The Lord has not ordered anyone or any group of people to go forth and wage war against others. The wars that we fight, whether we can justify them or not, are the result of the sort of sinfulness in our world that the Lord was directing the Israelites to eradicate from their land in the time of Moses and Joshua. All violence in our world has its source in the evil that has attempted to overcome God’s perfect plan of creation. Depending upon how an individual views things in this regard, there may be times when a violent response to an aggressive act or the intent to commit one is justified and is even Godly. I am not entering into a discussion of these ideas; however, I am saying that in God’s original creation plan and in His restored one at the end of time there is no violence, no war.

 

So, it seems to me that discussing briefly how this passage is allegorical might be worth taking on. There is a harsh reality to our world today that is very similar to the one that the Israelites faced, for God is opposed by people, both individually and in organized groups, throughout the world. There is almost nowhere that we can go where this is not true. As followers of Christ we are, like Joshua, called upon and tasked by Christ to go forth and to wage a fearless campaign for the reclamation of the world around us. We do not fight with swords but rather with love, grace, mercy, and truth. Christ doesn’t direct us to drive people out and to eradicate the record of their existence; rather, He sends us out to befriend people whose beliefs are different from ours, to share life and the truth of the Gospel of Christ with them, and to seek peaceful means of resolving our disputes and conflicts. In Christ we have God’s complete and total plan for the restoration to salvation of our world. This is the battle that our Lord is calling upon us to fight every day of our lives.

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

And have mercy on those who doubt, save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Jude 22, 23

 

It is easy to think and to act in a superior manner. We say, “I know that what I believe is right, and I reject what others do as wrong.” God has set out His truth, and His Holy Scriptures backs up my understanding of it. This is a position that is somewhat the opposite of the one that continually moves, shifts, and redefines those Godly truths in terms that are comfortable and acceptable in today’s culture. Neither that compromised understanding of God’s righteousness nor this other overly zealous separation from others with its attendant attitude of superiority is how Christ desires for His people to live.

 

Our Lord calls upon us to engage with the people who disagree with our faith in Him. Christ demonstrated in His life and instructs us to love even those who aggressively oppose our beliefs. We are to have mercy on people who do not know Christ, for they are living outside of the blessings and the hope that are gained through that relationship with the Lord. This attitude of mercy should work to slow our natural drive toward judgment; and thus, it prepares our minds and our hearts to listen well so that we can hear their stories and enter into walking through life with them in the manner that Christ does with each of us.

 

There are no promises that any of this will be easy. There will be times when we need to be honest, direct, and even confrontational in the process of living out our faith and in bringing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into this world. Even when we show great mercy, patience, and care some people will reject our faith in Christ and us. There will be people who will do so in ways that are emotionally or physically painful. Despite the hardships and the rejection that we may encounter, we are called by Christ to continue to follow Him in loving people well while speaking and living out the truth of His righteousness that leads to salvation for the body and the soul.