Since this is Saturday evening – the sun has gone down – a good way to prepare for the Lord’s Day might be to type up a “Bible study” I composed 29.8.87 and had published in a student newspaper. I was looking for a way to explain to Christian students. as well as all the students in my sociology class at Chisholm Institute of Technology, Melbourne, why I considered the Bible to be centrally important in my own studies. It’s not that easy to do and it’s easy to be misunderstood. But it is also important, as Christian professionals, that we keep on listening to the Bible. We don’t all have to spend our scholarly hours reading the Bible, (some of us do) but it is most important that we hear and sense just how God is at work in His creation with his call to us to get in step with His spirit. This is His ongoing work which continues until He is satisfied that His purposes with His creation as fully complete … and we are called to be part of that! So he is what I penned back then in the “olden days” of 1987….
2 Corinthians 10:1-6
Now with my personal request of you, I, Paul, through the gentleness and clemency of Christ who, when appearing before you in person is [supposedly] so humble while showing great courage when [he is] far away, kindly request of you that I will not have to be bold with you when present to courageously reckon with some who allege that we are walking according to the [ways of human] flesh. For though our walk is in the flesh, our war is not according to the flesh [and its demands]. For the weapons of our engagement are not of the flesh but are full of might for [doing the will of] God in overthrowing entrenched positions and every high and mighty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every strategy into the realm of obedience to Christ, and being ready to adjudicate concerning all arrogant misrepresentation whenever your obedience is fully complete.
Why do we keep on trying to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ known in public life? What is this seeming-obsessive desire of Christian groups to be obedient in public and even in professional terms? Is this not merely another distraction of the “ways of the flesh” and will it not inevitably end up with us concluding that our desire to be obedient in our professional lives is just part of our human sinfulness, our Christian egos getting the better of us?
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 Paul has already outlined the aim of Christian ministry, Christian service of God and neighbour in this world.
Moreover,we know that if this earthly home of ours, in this tabernacle, falls to pieces, we have a household not made by hands, henceforth in the heavens. For about this we indeed groan, greatly desiring to put on our dwelling-place from heaven, so that we shall finally be established, fully clothed with our nakedness dealt with. Yes indeed we are those residents of this tabernacle who groan mightily under great burdens but it is not a groaning desire to divest ourselves or strip ourselves [of this cloak] but of being further robed in order that what is merely mortal may be consumed by life. And God is the one who has been busily working this in us, giving us the down-payment guarantee of His Spirit.
The aim is to be fully preoccupied with what is a spiritual struggle. What does this mean? Here, it seems, Paul suggests that we in this life confront life and death struggle to “keep it all together” because of an ongoing tendency that would pull our lives completely apart. And so the same spirit tells us that to resist our lives being pulled apart we need to find ways to assert our self-sufficiency! It is not our self-sufficiency that we need to assert. What Paul is saying we need to resist the spirit of self-sufficiency because it is that spirit that is pulling our lives apart in the first place!
The word “warfare” is not too extreme to use in this context. Human life will be under the total rule of one spirit or another, developing in one direction or another. The term “war-fare” is appropriate for this struggle if we use it as Paul directs, that is not because we are directed to overcome those who see us as their enemy with nothing other than love (“but I say unto you, love you enemies …”). This then is a mighty personal struggle to maintain a Christian path. That is the path on which He, through His work, has made possible for us – we have been set on that path and that path is not going to be walked without us experiencing the task of resisting the unholy spirits that are waging war with the ways of the Holy Spirit.
It is in this context that Paul makes the astounding claim about his own battle plan – notice how he is suggesting that this “war” is to be fought.
in overthrowing entrenched positions and every high and mighty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every strategy into the realm of obedience to Christ.
There is something awfully total about this approach. Paul has got in “deep” we might say. He is being self-critical in a basic sense. Consider Paul – the onetime leader of a militia bent on destroying the knowledge of Christ. He saw no alternative; his battle-plan derived not just from his distant view of humankind’s deep-down problem, as if he were some kind of military commander perched up on a hill looking on his troops down in the valley below. No. His battle-plan came straight from the mouth of Jesus Himself:
Saul, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me!
Jesus kindly informed him (is that what we can say here?) that he had been fully engaged as one completely immersed in humankind’s deep-down problem, blindly blundering on, with a passion that sent him relentlessly on to have His followers thrown into jail and executed like Stephen.
Paul’s view goes like this: we, the human-race, are involved in a massive attempt to defend ourselves against the God and Heavenly Father who loves us and longs for His erring children to return to Him. This self-defence strategy shows itself in many ways.
Personally, we try to hypnotize ourselves that life without God is OK.
Socially, economically and politically we engage in empire-building initiatives to show we can rules our own lives without God’s intervention. But by this approach to life we simply contribute to the long-established systems of human slavery. We can dress it up in all kinds of respectable dress – even Christian professional dress. Let’s not forget that. But the sad truth is that without the grace, mercy and love of God in Jesus Christ, we prefer this slavery, this enslavement to our own self-defense, the attempt to initiate our own strategic-defense initiative. And what are we then fighting against if it is not the love of God in Christ Jesus Himself?
Our massive attempt to defend ourselves against God is nothing other than an attempt to escape from living our lives before God. So involved are we in exalting ourselves against the true knowledge of God (v.5), we can scarcely conceive of a forgiving heavenly father. We would rather our system of defence against God – which tells us how important we and our sins are – than knowing about God’s love and mercy – which tells us how puny and how destructive and constricting our rebellion against God actually is. It is this resistance to the Good News about Jesus which Paul refers as “a walk according to the flesh”.
Public life, professional endeavour subject to law and public accountability, is all about the formation of good human activities that cannot avoid being caught up in this spiritual struggle. Outside of the healing forgiveness of Christ Jesus all kinds of good and responsible human endeavour in public service – however that is expressed – can all too easily become part of the massive systems of self-defense which people like you and I will build to hide from God Himself.
Paul challenges the proud, self-defensive posture against God’s love, by asserting that the story does not end with our remorseless attempts to re-build our own world to justify our siege mentality. And Paul does so because it was his siege mentality that was dissolved when he got knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus.
But notice how Paul was able to take the message to all kinds of public officials and Governors and without flinching in the slightest. His message was that the work of Jesus Christ means we no longer have to defend ourselves and run for cover from God. In our public professional lives we are called into this struggle because all the good things around us, though sent from heaven above, if not re-directed to God through the work of Christ Jesus (of which we have been made co-workers) will find the strategic defence initiative which is the enslavement of the human race to be an ever-present destructive reality.
And so also as Christian professionals:
For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Christ Jesus, [the] Lord, with ourselves [meanwhile] as your servants because of Jesus [and His ongoing ministry in our midst]. (2 Corinthians 4:5).
[What I have written here is only a beginning of thinking about this – some of what I have tapped in above needs further development – by all means add your comments and suggestions … ]
2.6.17 (re-edited version from 29.8.87)