When we look at the life of Jesus, it is quite obvious that he did not see a dramatic division between the sacred and the secular. For Jesus, as it was for Jewish culture in general, the sacred was to be like a canopy that covered all of one’s activities, no matter how mundane. Jesus demonstrated this through his actions, his teachings, and his general demeanor as he went about his business. Paul, who was about as Hebrew as one could get, also shared this lack of a clear dividing line between what was spiritual and what was material or mundane. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, the Apostle writes:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
The separation of the sacred from the secular is an aberration that is largely peculiar to Western philosophy. Neither time nor space allows for a detailed explanation of how this distorted and divisive element of the common Western worldview evolved. Suffice to say that it began with the thought of Renee Descartes in the 17th Century, gathered steam in the Enlightenment, and became the absolute, unquestioned norm in the century recently ended.
Fortunately, things are undergoing rapid change as our global culture has brought all parts of the world into more intimate contact. Western philosophy, theology, and even science are now taking a more expansive, holistic approach to spirituality, recognizing that anything can be spiritual if one has the right perspective. Tiellhard de Chardin, a Catholic theologian who was also a gifted scientist, spoke wisely to the point of this issue when he said:
Nothing is profane for one who has eyes to see.
Increasingly, Christian pastors, teachers, writers, and theologians have jettisoned the erroneous teaching of Descartes in favor of a more inclusive perspective as to what constitutes the “spiritual.” Kary Oberbrunner, founder of Redeem the Day Ministries, tells us:
The perceived opposition between Christianity and culture stems from a dualistic, Western worldview that divides life into categories – categories like sacred and secular. Within this view, prayer and evangelism are spiritual activities, while exercise and eating are secular. Christian schoolteachers and missionaries have spiritual vocations, while business people and computer programmers have secular ones. God shows up in spiritual places like church and nature; he is absent from secular venues like sports arenas……This type of worldview is toxic on multiple levels. The theologian Abraham Kuyper recognized these dangers and said, “There is not an inch of the entire domain of our human life of which Christ, who is sovereign of all, does not proclaim, ‘Mine!’”
It should be unnecessary to say that we can be just as valuable to God in the office as we can in the church. We can accomplish tasks and goals that are quite spiritual at the Little League park, just as easily as we can in a Sunday School class. Our “secular” activities in the world are no less spiritual than those of our pastor, a monk, or, if you happen to be Catholic, the Pope.
Perhaps it is one of the enemy’s greatest strategies to keep us in that split and divisive state of mind where we draw an impenetrable line between our spiritual activities and more “worldly” pursuits. It certainly isn’t an idea that you can consistently support with scripture. I can be just as holy bowling with friends as I can be teaching a Sunday School class. I can be just as Christian showing my daughter how to ride a bike as I can be reading the Bible. I can be every bit as much a spiritual person at my desk at work as I can be singing in the church choir.
Christ’s mandate was for us to carry our faith into all our activities, not just a few that our culture has defined as “spiritual.” This is what Paul meant when he said we were to be “a pleasant aroma” and strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a “living epistle.” The bottom line here is that we are called to be followers of Christ and to be a follower of Christ, more than anything else, is to be a servant. The blessing in all this is that the spectrum of servant activity extends from the sanctuary to the street, from the narthex to the neighborhood, and from the holy to the hovel.
Recently, as I meditated on these themes, the Holy Spirit led me to see that in order to be a living epistle, with the teachings of Christ inscribed on my heart, I must first of all be a servant. These days we make much of the concept of leadership and, although competent Christian leaders are needed in all areas of our culture, we also need competent followers – especially Christ-followers. And to be a Christ follower is to be a servant. If you have any doubts about this, check out Matthew 26 where Jesus talks about separating the sheep and the goats.
A living epistle, a Christ-following servant possesses an obedient heart, filled with compassion and motivated toward being a proactive helper in ways great and small. Rarely is this call to servanthood involve our personal comfort, but instead, will often require that we renounce our own priorities and convenience. Listen as Bruce Wilkinson describes the Master’s call to servanthood:
The call to service is rarely a call to convenience, and Jesus’ life of servanthood was not easy. Note how Isaiah describes the role of the Servant-Messiah centuries before Jesus’ birth (Isa. 52:13 – 53:12). Mark frequently describes the difficult life of the servant. You’ll see Jesus interrupted as He spends time in prayer. You’ll feel the eager crowds pressing in to tap His power. You’ll sense His compassion for those in need and His anger at those using traditions as an excuse to avoid serving others. And you’ll sense His resolute commitment to face the cross in spite of its agony and shame. Truly, Jesus is the supreme model of servanthood….Your call as a disciple is likewise a call to servanthood. Do you place your Master’s will ahead of your own? Does your heart respond with compassion at the sight of needy people? Do your actions speak louder than words? Active, compassionate, obedient service to the Master – that’s your privilege today and everyday.
If we are to be living epistles, we are servants in the ministry of the towel, just as Jesus when he washed his disciples’ dirty feet. There is no debate about this calling upon our lives. The only question is to what extent we are willing to respond. Let’s close with Paul’s words to the Philippians:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant….
© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved