As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. – John 17:18
Should followers of Christ withdraw from the world to set up their own exclusive communities or retreat from society into “Christian ghettos”? Not if they are to fulfill Christ’s prayer in John 17:18. Engagement, not isolation, is His desire.
Some early Christians sought refuge in the catacombs of Rome. But that practice was only temporary, and they were forced there only by the most extreme persecutions. Normally, they could be found actively participating in the society.
Actually, Scripture recognizes a tension between separation and involvement. Passages like Romans 12:2; Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will and 1 Peter 1:14-16 – As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”; urge us to pursue a distinctive, holy lifestyle. Our commitments, character, and conduct should contrast vividly with those of people who do not follow God. On the other hand, Jesus calls us to live and work side by side with those very same people. He sends us into the world to make an impact.
Naturally, that can lead to conflict. If our loyalty is given to Christ, we can expect tension with others who follow a different course.
Whether we undergo mild teasing and insults or open hostility and even violence, “normal” Christianity involves conflict with the world to which we are called. Fortunately, the New Testament gives us plenty of examples to follow:
The Lord Himself came into the world to offer a new relationship with God. He didn’t have to. He could have remained in His heavenly position. Yet He voluntarily left it all to die for us, and to deliver to a rebellious humanity God’s offer of forgiveness, love, and acceptance. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:5-8.
When Christ came into the world, His listeners showed initial interest. Yet gradually most of them turned against Him. Knowing full well the fate that awaited Him, He entered Jerusalem, ready to face persecution, arrest, and even death. His followers tried to divert Him, but He was determined to follow God’s call into the world. Isolation and safety were not options.
The church’s greatest messenger started out having anyone who followed Jesus. Yet Christ Himself stopped him in his vengeful tracks and redirected his life to become a globetrotting messenger of faith and forgiveness.
However, Paul’s first days as a Christian were spent in an isolated “retreat” in Arabia. But this withdrawal lasted only for a time, and only so that Saul could emerge as Paul, the apostle. He crisscrossed the empire, bringing the gospel to dozens of cities and towns. These encounters led to numerous misunderstandings, deportations, arrests, physical abuse and attempts on his life. Probably Paul sometimes longed for the safer, quitter days of his Arabian retreat. But once he responded to God’s call to engage the world, there was no turning back. He also challenged others to live, work, and witness among the lost.
Peter struggled throughout his life to break out the separatist mentality he had grown up with. He didn’t like the prospects of suffering and rejection, and at times took steps to forestall it. He liked even less the idea of sharing God’s good news of salvation with Samaritans and Gentiles.
But Christ kept calling Peter back, to reengage the world. In the end, he learned the necessity and the value of suffering and called others to do likewise. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” – 1 Peter 4:1-2
A respected landowner, Barnabas enjoyed relatively “safe” calling as a leader of the infant church in Jerusalem. But he accepted an assignment to visit Antioch and investigate rumours of Gentile converts to the predominantly Jewish movement. Sure enough, he found that God was bringing all nations into the fellowship. So he sought on Paul, an unknown, to help him establish the new converts in the faith.
Later, they travelled to Jerusalem to defend and extend this new “worldly” thrust in the growing work of God.
Jesus didn’t ask God to take believers out of the world but instead to use them in the world. Because Jesus sends us into the world, we should not try to escape from the world, nor should we avoid all relationships with non-Christians. We are called to be salt and light: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:13-16, and we are to do the work that God sent us to do not only in church but in our offices , and other areas of professional work.
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