“I have given them Your word. And the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” (John 17: 14-26 MEV)
This morning I was pondering on this verse as a train of thought connected to something I had read. However I got well and truly side-tracked as I come up against a fresh revelation on it’s meaning – and how it looks in the life of a modern Christian.
It involves using a slightly dangerous analogy; dangerous because it refers to a rather emotive, political issue that people have strong opinions on. I ask you though to set aside your personal reaction to the subject and instead focus on the way the parallels can help illuminate these verses.
The issue? That of people living in a land not of their birth. I do NOT want you to think “refugee” or “immigrant” as those are the trigger words today. Think instead of ex-pats, those that have emigrated, moved home. I believe that analogy can help us unpack this lesson of how to be “in” the world but not “of” the world.
I have a passport that states I was born in the UK and that I am a resident of the UK. I am British through and through. Many British people – at retirement or earlier – sell up and move lock stock and barrel to France, or Spain. These are the “ex-pats”. They apply for citizenship, get a new passport. Spain becomes their new home. They live in a new land. A new culture. Sunshine instead of rain. New exotic foods. A new lifestyle. A new language.
I’ve always failed to understand though why so many of them seem to stay “British”. They live in ex-pat communities with other British people. They have a local shop that sells them English tea, Worcestersire sauce, Branston pickle – or they get visiting friends to bring “British” supplies with them or family back in Blighty to post regular food boxes. They talk English and socialise with each other.
I look at them and think “why did you move?!” If you love all things British, why go to live in a foreign land?
From Heaven’s perspective, I’m afraid many of us Christians must look like those ex-pats.
Jesus bought us a new citizenship. We were born again – no longer does our spiritual passport say we were born “in the world”. I have a new passport that says I was born in the Kingdom of God (not the United Kingdom). My address is Heavenly. My birthplace Heaven not Kent. My Father/next of kin is God. Jesus paid all my removal costs and now I am living in a new land!
I believe the Bible clearly teaches that Heaven starts here, on earth, in the heart of the believer. That is why Jesus taught us to pray “Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”. That is our daily prayer surely, that in us and through us we see heaven established on earth.
So why do we insist on keeping our old ways? If I am now living in the Kingdom of God, why am I not only speaking it’s language? Why do I still use the words, the phrases, the message of the world, where I used to “live”?
Why am I still feeding myself things from the old kingdom? I have the store house of Heaven at my disposal but I’m sustaining myself with the things of the world. Instead of feeding on the Living Word of God – the Water of Life which we can drink of and never be thirsty again (John 4:14), the Bread of Heaven that we can eat of and live forever (John: 6: 51).
If the Angels look at me, do they see someone fully integrated into Heaven, or someone who may have technically moved location but has remained of the old world? As a born again Christian, I have “moved” spiritually and nothing can change that. But why go to all that effort of “moving” and then effectively stay where you were? Like those ex-pats, living on the Costa de Sol eating fish and chips, drinking tea, English lager, with their Heinz baked beans, talking English and playing English music.
They are missing out on the richness of the culture, the food, the people, the life style – the very things that made them fall in love with the place the first time! Whatever their passport says, they have stayed British.
Are you doing that? Despite your spiritual passport saying “heaven” have you kept the ways of the world? What riches are you missing out! We should be filling ourselves daily with the glorious riches that are ours in Christ and fully immersing ourselves in this new culture.
As I thought about this and how it applied in my own life, I found another analogy that looks at it from completely the other way and yet still makes the same point.
I was thinking first from Heaven’s point of view, with us as the people who had changed citizenship. But then I thought of it from the other way around, from those around me here in the world. Do I look to them as if I am “not of this world”? From that perspective actually I should look to those around me like those ex-pats do to the Spanish.
Think about it.
Do you have any areas near where you live that are known for being populated by people from another country? Most places I’ve lived have had known pockets/areas that might be, say, Chinese, Polish etc. It is understandable because if you were moving to a new country the idea of settling somewhere near “your own people” could appeal. Especially if you were unable to speak the new language.
When you become a Christian, Heaven should be able to look at you and see someone fully “in the Kingdom” as I said before. But, because we are still in the world (though no longer of it) to those around us we should now be different!
There is much debate over Sharia law and Muslims following that Islamic law even when it goes against the law of the land they are living in (if they are in a non-Muslim country). We perhaps need to reflect that, as Christians, our actions should regularly be showing up as following a “different law”, a different set of standards to live by, from those around us.
How often have you not gone along with something at work, with your friends, where you have known it was not right? Have you ever spoken out about it?
Do your non-Christian friends look at you and see someone who lives by different standards? Do we stand out?
Sometimes I think we get so caught up in making the church “relevant”, our services “seeker friendly”, our language “accessible” and our approaches “modern” that we completely and utterly miss the point.
WE ARE MEANT TO BE DIFFERENT!
Church isn’t meant to be like the rest of the world. Christians aren’t meant to be the same as everyone else.
Jesus expected us to be hated because we were His followers! He talked to Father about it! He expected our behaviour to make us stand out and, instead of asking God to change that, to take us out of this world, He asked for us to not be tempted or harmed by the evil one (the ruler of this world) whilst here.
If I look at my life, does that prayer seem necessary? Am I that much in danger because I stand out? If the answer is no then frankly, I’m doing it wrong.
If Jesus expected me to be ridiculed, mocked, lose friends, family ties broken, misunderstood, persecuted… And yet the reality is my friends might not even know I believe in God, then something is wrong.
You don’t have to be a pastor, an evangelist, “in ministry”, serving in some desperate part of the world, in danger of being killed for your beliefs for this to apply. In your workplace your faith should mean you are open at anytime to being mocked, over looked for promotion by your atheist boss, or know that at a family gathering your cousin (who is very anti religion) will make a beeline for you and start an argument.
We aren’t called to be different in order to judge, or to be “holier than thou” (because the moment you do, you are the same as the Pharisees), to say we are right and everyone else is wrong in condemnation. We are, however, still called to be different because by that difference, we demonstrate God’s message.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have for one another” (John 13:35 MEV)
By the fact that Jesus said this meant He knew our behaviour – motivated by God and His Grace – would lead us to behave in a fashion different to those around us. He knew having love – the “love your neighbours” kind of love – we would be different. We are to be lights – which suggests something pure, shining, guiding, leading – in the darkness of the world. Again and again, He taught His disciples to be different.
I’m going to spend time honestly examining my life. I want to know that in Heaven I am “fully integrated”, but that in the world’s eyes, I am different – from another country and culture. I pray that the Holy Spirit will gently show me those areas that I need to focus on and give me the wisdom and courage to make the changes, and to be different in the way that Jesus called me to be, a way that loves, heals and saves and never condemns.
I invite you to do the same.