The other day I ran into one of the strangest things that I have seen in a while. There’s a guy living and working in town like he’s living on the other side of the world. You see, over twenty years ago, he moved here to Louisville, but he never changed his schedule. He still gets up and goes to bed at the same time as he did before he moved here. This means that if you want to work with him, you’ll have to wait until he wakes up in the evening. American citizen? Yep. But you’ll be hard pressed to find many American citizens so devoted to their homeland.
As I drove away from his house the other day, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities between his way of life and the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is constantly speaking through the Apostles’ writings to churches about this type of thing. Over and over, Christians are being warned to avoid conformity to this world (Rom. 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:14; Col. 3:1-5). Why? Well, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Christians are supposed to live in their respective cultures as citizens of another culture, the kingdom of Christ.
Just as my curiosity was awakened by the strangeness of that man’s lifestyle, so God intends for his people’s faithful living to stir people’s curiosity. This is why the Apostle Peter urged the churches, which he described as “strangers”, always to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). The stark difference in their lives from their cultures was meant to lead to questions. If there wasn’t any difference between their lives and their cultures, there wouldn’t be any questions. There was. So they needed to be ready.
Taking these thoughts through all the conversations that I have had with many of my unbelieving coworkers over the past several years and the types of things that I’ve seen across the cultural landscape, I wondered what kinds of biblical practices raise the type of questions from unbelievers that the Apostle Peter wrote about. There are many things that I thought of, but three in particular that kept coming up.
First, a biblical view of marriage seems to be a significant place for evangelistic conversations. Sadly, it seems like most Christians look at marriage the same way that they look at the American Post Office. They don’t care how the Post Office orders itself, just as long as it delivers. Likewise, they don’t care how the marriage is ordered, just as long as it lasts. There is something attractive about this approach in light of the divorce-ridden culture in which we live. After all, some say, with as much divorce as there is, do whatever you can! This type of attitude will be well accepted by your lost coworkers and the culture at large.
But cultural accommodation isn’t the goal. After all, you won’t find a Bible verse saying, “Marriage is so hard that you should do whatever works best for you personally. The ordering that works best your marriage may or may not work for another. Just make what you can of it. Good luck.” Instead, you’ll find very clear directions from the Apostle Paul on the most volatile part of marriage, how the couple should relate to one another. The Apostle says that “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23) and that wife should submit to her husband as the church does to Christ (Eph. 5:24). So the husband is placed in a position of authority and the wife in a place of support. Both, of course, stand before God as equals (1 Pet. 3:7), but they serve distinctly.
Will this solve all of the marital problems? Of course not. We are all sinners. But with more Christian husbands seeking conformity to the headship displayed by Jesus as he gave his life for the good of his bride on the cross, the role of the husband as leader will look less like a privilege and more like a glorious burden. And if more Christian wives joyfully submit to their husband’s leadership like the church does to her husband, Jesus, then the role of a submissive wife will look less like a prison and more like a place of freedom and joy. Marriages like this won’t make you popular, but they will be used of God to make you holy. And, by God’s grace, as more Christian marriages conform to the Christ-church picture in the midst of a culture that will continue to glorify christ figures (husbands) who forsake their brides, the curiosity of more unbelieving coworkers and neighbors will be awakened. Hopefully, through consciences that know something has been lost, these friends will ask us for the reason for the order in our homes. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to point them to the order in the household of God.
Secondly, I think that a Christian view of children is a strategic point of contact with the unbelieving conscience. “Make sure that you enjoy one another before you have kids”, my wife and I were told on a number of occasions as we approached our wedding date. These folks wouldn’t make good army recruiters. “Make sure that you enjoy life before you sign up”. The statement, of course, implies that once we started having children, we would stop having joy. These Barnabas’s weren’t my unbelieving friends, they were Christians. Sadly, when you listen closely, these types of comments and insinuations appear all over the place. Women with more than two children often hear “You know what causes that?”, “Are you Mormon?”, or “Don’t you want to do something with your life besides raise kids?” The list goes on and many times things are said that shouldn’t be put in print.
Does God think these types of things when a family has kids quickly and often? Does God think, “Great, first the Smiths didn’t wait to have kids when they were married and now they are about to have their 7th kid. If they just would’ve listened to those people who told them to avoid this, I would’ve been able to give them a great life”? If not, why are these types of impressions being given by those, Christians, who are called to represent God on earth? Perhaps it is because we are more influenced by the world’s perspective than the Bible? After all, it is God who commands Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” [Gen. 1:28] and who says that the man who has a large number of children is blessed (Ps. 127:5). The Apostle Paul continues this sentiment in his Spirit-inspired writings, urging women to bear children (1 Tim. 2:15; 4:10, 14).
When you look into the Scriptures, you won’t find a God who thinks kids just get in the way. You won’t hear a Jesus who says “One kid is okay, two is plenty”. Those are the things that you will hear coming out of a culture that will do almost anything to protect “time for me” rather than time for one more kid in their life. When Christian families recover a biblical view of children it will cost them money, time, and maybe even reputation. But, by God’s grace, as we look afresh through the lens of Scripture to see how great a gift children are, we will be happy that God’s call to be “fruitful and multiply” means a little less tranquility on Saturday mornings and more laughter coming from the mouths of our children as you tickle them, “Please, just one more time”. There are factors at play in this that we are all aware of. Children are a gift from God, not a right. And self-righteousness from larger families isn’t biblical either. But this doesn’t seem to be our problem. In a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to children, parents who grow increasingly loving of children will have more opportunities to give a reason for the bump in Mom’s tummy.
Third, a recovery of a biblical view of work will go a long way in reaching the lost. Recently, Dr. R. Albert Mohler commented on the rising number of children who “are aliens in the outside world”, while they “are accustomed to air conditioning, sophisticated entertainments, and lack of physical activity”. It is sad when all a kid does is play video games. It’s even sadder when this is true of adults. This video game obsession found amongst some is only a small part of the larger phenomenon called “extended adolescence”. Here you will see men and women, especially men though, spending their lives working, (if they actually have a job) obsessed with finding the latest and greatest form of entertainment to dwindle their time away. These folks don’t relax so that they can be better workers, which would make work primary. Instead, they work so that they can relax in better ways, making relaxation primary. And there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the church and the world.
Are video games the problem? Not necessarily. The problem seems to be that Christians have lost a biblical view of work and adopted their cultures in its place. After all, when God creates Adam and puts him in the Garden of Eden, he puts him there to work (Gen. 2:15). And this is before sin entered into the world! This is why after God commands mankind to work and have dominion He is able to declare that it is good (Gen. 1:31)! Adam didn’t whine when he woke up and went to work. He did it all to the glory of God, until the Fall. But even in the midst of a fallen world where work is harder than it once was (Gen. 3:17-19), Christians are called to work to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). The Apostle Paul commands Christians to “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23). Why? Because God is using work to conform Christians into the image of Christ, making them suitable to rule over the cosmos with him throughout eternity. Whether you are a homemaker, a janitor, or an accountant, God is using your present responsibilities as training for responsibilities that will be allotted in the new creation that will have you motivated, effective, and pleasing for the kingdom of Christ (Rev. 5:10; 21-22).
Maybe when we recapture a biblical vision of work, we will see fewer young Christians hiding from adulthood in the Garden with Adam. Perhaps when Christians start pursuing excellence in their work because they know that God placed them in their position to become the type of people that will rule with Christ, their unbelieving bosses will start to ask why “all of you Christians do such a good job”. Maybe if we re-envision the Christian life so that it judges its health not only by the number of quiet moments it has had this past week, but also by the quality of its work, more men would fill the pews. In a culture that longs for the supposed excitement of a life of endless relaxation, a recovery of the joy and purpose of work in the church might provide just the answer that will bring them out of their fancy boredom.
The uniqueness of the lifestyle of the guy I ran into the other day piqued my curiosity. After a few questions, it all made sense. Much to my shame, as I thought about all of this, there have only been few times in my life when my way of life caused someone to ask me what I was living for. Some of this, surely, comes from the fact that in past years, I have viewed marriage, children, and work almost exactly as the culture in which I live. Maybe it is hard for my unbelieving coworkers to believe that I seriously believe in the God that I say do, since I have worried about the same things they always worry about and have complained about the same things they always complain about. Maybe I’m not alone. I think that if we repent daily of our cultural captivity in these areas, we might hear a few more questions. With the questions, if we are faithful, come Christ-centered, blood-drenched answers. And, by God’s grace, we might see a few more people joining us as we live like we’re of another world.
Are you talking about Mr. Tang?
Great post! I’ve experienced the same type of questions from family and friends concerning my choices of entertainment (what moives I will/will not watch, places I will/will not go, etc.). Thanks for the reminder and encouragment.
Thanks for the comment Matt. The guy I am talking about is a car repair man. His name is Tan, which is close to who you are talking about. Same guy?
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Mr. Tan is the guy! Great to hear he’s still hard at work.
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Good, stout stuff, J. Some great material in this. Will link to it. Thankful for this perspective.
I came across the Baptist 21 blog by means of Larry McDonald.
Hope all is well with you!
When you have a chance, shoot me an email back here at NGU.