When I use the word “world” in this piece I’m not using it to mean “organized evil, the anti-God, anti-life and anti-human” structure that we’re not to love or be friends with (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4 style). I mean it John 3:16-17 style that speaks of humans who are entangled in the cosmic network of evil and need rescued, whether they know it or not.
For all their “lostness” they are loved by God who finds no pleasure—none at all (Ezekiel 18)—in the final death of the impenitent wicked. For all they waywardness and their choosing to walk away from God and follow their own path (and they choose it, God doesn’t foreordain them to do it as some fools with a Bible in their hand claim He does)—for all their sinful foolishness God leaves us a witness that He loves us still by “doing good, giving us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with gladness” (Acts 14:16-17). This is the God Paul tells the idolatrous Athenians about; the God who gives to humans “life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).
“Life and breath and everything else!”
I know—how could I not? Wickedness shows up all over the place or hides in plain sight in respectable places; evil that shocks even us who are used to hearing about it, watching in on the news and sometimes engaging in it ourselves, though we are good at rationalizing or minimizing it. We sincere Christian people should insist we’re different from non-Christian people but we need to be clear in what way we are different. We’ve been “called out” by the gospel of God not because we’re better or smarter or stronger than non-Christians—we’re not—we never were—Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:7.
We’ve been called out to experience salvation and life in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) that we might be the visible and concrete proof of God’s love and faithfulness to His eternal purpose to bless humanity (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
The world need us!
But we need the world!
Non-Christians grow our food, heal our sick, teach our children, build our roads, employ our workers, make our automobiles, produce our medicines, staff our hospitals, build our houses, supply clean water, dispose of our garbage and sewage, retail our daily necessities, supply heat and cool, provide technology, police our cities, fight our wars, man our courts, function for us in local, state and federal government, negotiate foreign trade, care for our children when parents must work, counsel the mentally distressed, protect those domestically abused, work in adoption situations and……..and……..
Yes, well all right, it isn’t always done well and there are those among them who don’t care that these jobs aren’t done well. Is there any Christian who thinks we are free of such failures? Who do we think we are?
We’re glad to have all these gifts and blessings and we thank God for them and then—what? We look down our noses at the people God uses to bless us.
We use them!
When did you last hear someone in your assembly thank God for the millions of non-Christians that enable us to live? We often enough ask Him to empower the doctors and nurses if they’re working on our sick friends or family but, listen to the prayers—the surgeons and other medical staff are instruments, the person as a person is forgotten. When success is achieved we thank God and not a word of warmth in a thanksgiving prayer about these gifted people as people—gifted by God and as people who use their gifts in kindness and with skill. (Almost always, as individuals, we speak a word of thanks to the medical people if our loved one is healed! But as a People we don’t see our need and utter dependence on the world We distance ourselves from them.)
There’s something we need to keep in mind as we grow more and more pleased (as we should!) when our assembly becomes more and more like God and to be a great community to be a part of. We speak of the varied gifts and skills we see in fellow-Christians as “spiritual gifts” and so we should but need to bear in mind that the varied gifts and character qualities that are obvious in the assembly existed in the non-Christians before God called them to Himself by the Spirit’s gospel about Jesus Christ.
You didn’t think they were giftless before they became Christians—did you? God gifts all humans! Without them we Christians couldn’t live! You didn’t think they came giftless and when they rose from the baptismal waters that God only then gifted them as administrators, speakers, teachers and such—did you? All God’s good gifts are “spiritual”.
It’s when people are called to God by His wondrous gospel that they then see their already existent gifts in a new or newer light and use them consciously or more consciously in the service of God. (Would it not be true and gracious to tell such people that God has blessed them richly with these gifts?)
Like all Christians these new Christians remain part of the world (John 17:12-15; Matthew 28:18-20), using the gifts God has given them as part of how He blesses the world and doing it as they gospel their way through the rest of their lives. One aspect of Christ’s miracles made it clear that God cares about the well-being of His human family. Maybe we can’t work His miracles but we can use His gifts to do the same thing Jesus did. Millions of non-Christians are doing it! We thank fellow-Christians for doing it—the Church AS THE CHURCH needs to thank them! To do less is graceless and is an expression of distorted isolation!
Finally this: The awful pain and suffering and deprivation of this world should serve to remind us that Christians are not God’s “pets”. They exist as a Covenant People for the world. To the degree that an assembly (with help from its leaders) forgets that they forget their God who is for the world and to the degree that our gathered people are made happy without being gospeled the more they become like “the world” of 1 John 2.
(Holy Father, help us with good and wise hearts to re-vision the world that we might see our need of them and your love of them and how you have gifted them. Thank you for them. We apologize. Grant us the gift of real metanoia that we will feel more than regret; that we will have a mind that looks forward and sees and gladly embraces the new way of seeing and thinking. This prayer in Jesus Christ.)