Salt and Light
The early days of the Christian church were exciting, but at the same time dramatic and dangerous as Christ’s message went out into all the known world. The world was turned upside down (Acts 17:6). Attention was focused on the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for the gospel. They were the “influencers” of that era to use the modern jargon, unlike the “influencers” of today—the celebrities, the politicians, the media moguls. Two characteristics of the early church stood out: their unity of purpose and the love they had for one another. How does the ordinary person view the Christian church today?
The media certainly plays a part in influencing the views of the average person in the street, and the media is quick to highlight the significant number of scandals within the church over the past few years. Churches, church-run organisations and pastors have all been in the news all too often for the wrong reasons. However, any student of church history will tell you that it is not unusual for periods of apostasy to beset the church, and for the public image of the church to be tarnished, but that is only one side of the coin. The wonderful truth is that the kingdom of God on earth is growing: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32).
John and Jane Doe may be influenced by the media, but a greater influence is surely their contact with Christians in their everyday life. Initial contacts are difficult because of the natural aversion to light entering in and exposing their darkness (John 3:20; 15:19). But respect and even credence can be earned by our conduct and the way we speak. What should become evident to them is that we love them as we love ourselves (Matt 19:19); that we are full of good deeds but attribute them to God, not ourselves (Matt 5:16); and that we are clearly in the world but not of the world (John 17:16). We should actually be noticeably different from the world. Powell Parry, reflecting on the revival at Rhos in Wales in 1904, stated that “Christians were noticeably different and were generally respected”
Follow me as I examine myself as to whether I am any different from the world around me:
- How do I make decisions? Do my thought processes go beyond personal needs and wants? Do I consider whether my decisions advance or hinder the cause of Christ?
- Do I really love my enemies?
- What is my attitude to possessions? Do I acknowledge in a practical way that God is the ultimate owner of all my possessions?
- How do I go with the command to “do all things without murmuring and disputing” (Ph 2:14)?
- How about “speak evil of no one” (Tit 3:2)?
- Do I tend to retaliate when wronged? Do I pursue my rights at all costs or do I let go in the spirit of Matthew 5:38-42?
- Do I defer to the other person’s conscience in the spirit of Romans 14 or do I tend to judge?
- Do I hold back a God given liberty because it may cause a weaker brother to stumble?
- Do I deliberately consider the possibility that something I say may cause offence, with the caveat that the gospel will inevitably offend some?
- Do I really “honour all people” (1 Tim 2:17)?
I have some heart work to do, but I know I am not alone in this as I have the gracious and powerful influence of the Holy Spirit within.