“The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?”
– Martin Luther
Do you live in a bubble? Many churches have as part of their mission an intention to reach the world with the Truth of the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ alone according to His Gospel. Most Christians would say that they want people to come to faith, and want to see the Kingdom of God come here on the Earth. However, most of us do not even know any unbelievers. And those that we do know, we assume are so set in their ways that we are unwilling to discuss the hope that we have with them. Surely they won’t believe it. Or we don’t want to offend them by cramming our faith down their throats.
One day Christ will “gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”; “He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other”; yes God Himself will “gather them; for I have redeemed them…and they shall return” (John 11.52, Matt 24.31, Zech 10.8-9). One glorious day all who belong to God will be called into an eternity of rest with Him and with one another, living in perfect community.
But we are not there yet. We have been scattered. God has sowed us “among the people: and [we] shall remember [Him] in far countries” (Zech 10.9). God purposefully designed that we would be dispersed like seed “into all the kingdoms of the earth” (Deut 28.25). The very method by which the early church multiplied most was by persecution. Much of the city of Rome was burned down in the year 64 AD under the Roman emperor Nero. It is rumored that the emperor himself started the fire, but to pass off responsibility he blamed Christians. The first major persecution broke out across the empire under his leadership only 30 years into the spread of Christianity. His brutality is documented to the level that he actually caught Christians and burned them in his gardens to provide light in the evenings for his parties. Christians were scattered throughout the entire known world. And they planted churches wherever they ended up. And these churches grew. Tertullian, a Christian apologist and theologian who was born about 100 years after the fire in Rome, made the statement that:
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.
The world will know that we are Christians by our love (John 13.35). We have been scattered throughout the world, and we are to scatter ourselves throughout the unreached world to make Him known through love. This does not necessarily mean that you have to go to another country! Let’s think about our worlds. Our days. Our friends. I am the most guilty of this. I work for a Christian non-profit organization. I play frisbee on Monday nights with a church group. I go to church and choir on Wednesday nights, Bible study on Friday nights, and the people with whom I spend most of my time are Christians. How can God use me to make an impact for the Kingdom if I spend all of my time in my Christian bubble, shielded from and ignoring the world?
Now, I am not arguing that we engage the world on their level in the sense that we live worldly lifestyles. But as Paul exemplified, we should be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.“
– 1 Cor 9.19-23
If we are so confident and so at peace in God that we exemplify the fruit of the Spirit – those things that identify Christians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then the world will see what makes us different and we can impact them (Gal 5.22-23). We do not impact them by being like them. They want us to be like them so that they do not feel guilty or as though they are missing out on something. But if we have peace, if we have kindness, if we have faith, then we set ourselves apart and represent well the name of our savior and if we love they will know we are Christians.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes well on the distinction of human love and spiritual love. He says, “Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake”. And he says later, “Spiritual love proves itself in that everything it says and does commends Christ”. And on the foundation of selfishness he observes that human love cannot love an enemy. It is in this that we distinguish ourselves. We love those who do not love us, as Christ loved us when we were still His enemies (Rom 5.10).
Let us not be friends with the world, in the sense of living like the world, because “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4). But let us love our enemies, let us love the world through a spiritual love and by exemplifying the outworking of the Spirit in our lives and on that basis alone engage the world – our non-christian friends, neighbors, coworkers, people on the street – as seed, scattered abroad, to bring about the Kingdom of God here on Earth. Let’s get out of our bubbles.
“Spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and His Word. Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer