Chapter 5: Life Lessons on Being Different
1. Christlike love is a foreign concept to those who have not experienced the saving grace of God, but it is a distinguishing mark of the believer.
1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” This does not mean that everybody who does something moral or nice knows God’s love and is born again of God. Even unbelievers know how to be nice to their friends, and even evil fathers give good gifts to their own children. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” One can still be evil at heart and not have to be a mass murderer or psychopath. If righteousness is evaluated based upon whether a person loves God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength and his neighbor as himself, then all people will clearly fall short. All people need a Savior. If people have the ability and willingness to reject the need for redemption, they will never be able to show such grace to others because they will have never received it themselves. How can people understand love and have the ability to show true love until they understand and receive the ultimate example of love in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross? As John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Christlike love requires sacrifice, and it has a cost. It is more than doing what is easy and giving only out of excess. It requires a crucifying of selfish agendas and ambitions, and it involves a willingness to care for somebody even when there is no possible selfish advantage in doing so.
John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Obviously, Christ believed that truly loving people was so radical and unusual that it would make Christians stand out. When we have been touched by Christ’s grace and forgiveness and have received it for ourselves, then, and only then, can we be those who are able to freely give such love and grace to others. Until we freely receive the free gift of salvation, how can we possibly understand how to freely love and truly care for another human being? Matthew 10:8b says, “Freely you received, freely give.” In the redeemed way of living and thinking, interpersonal relationships are not to be about selfish agendas or just barely getting along. In Christ, relationships can be so much more than that, empathizing, forgiving, being loyal, being true, and being honest. Where the Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17) because He has set us free from slavery to sin and to the advancement of self. We who are in Christ now seek out the welfare of others ahead of our own (Philippians 2:3-4). That certainly requires a supernatural change from the inside out. Within the family of God, there is no need to perform in order to earn love or to be perfect in order to maintain love. The unconditional nature of Christlike love is something foreign to the world, which has no comprehension of grace. Only in Christ can we be truly accepted, fulfilled, and healed so that we can actually give and receive love from the depths of our souls. This is why Christianity is so much more than just being nice; anybody can play that game. Love is so much grander, deeper, and profound, and the redeemed know that it is certainly worth living for and even worth dying for.
2. More often than not, the crowds get it wrong, just as they did with Jesus, but those who know the truth are willing to take the road less travelled.
There is no question based upon the Scripture that most choose the wide road that leads to destruction, while few enter through the narrow gate of the gospel of Christ. Matthew 7:13 says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” The fact is that due to the fallen, sinful heart of man, his judgments are off, and mankind naturally gets it wrong about many things, including spiritual matters (Romans 1:22). Thinking that he is wise, he reveals by his actions and philosophies that he is foolish (1 Corinthians 1:20). This is why, even when confronted with Jesus, God in human flesh, right in their midst, humans still thought that His teaching was either too hard, too crazy, or too confusing. The crowds en masse abandoned Jesus and stopped following Him. John 6:66 says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” This is a similar experience to what Paul faced in 2 Timothy 1:15, which says, “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” The truth is difficult to accept for the natural man, but it is still the truth nonetheless. Thus, by default, those who accept Jesus and keep His truth will be the vast minority. Most will take a different path in life, rejecting Christ and judging Him to be a liar or a lunatic rather than Lord of all. We must not take any rejection or alienation personally, but, as long as we are holding to the truth, we can recognize our persecution as a blessing and an honor (Matthew 5:10). It can actually encourage us because it shows us that God has counted us worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41). It means that we have stayed on the right path and are going the right way. This is totally opposite of how one normally evaluates success, but using Jesus and Paul as examples, one would have to conclude that few disciples stay the course because few truly believe.
Crowds are subject to groupthink, fads, and trends and for falling victim to whatever the popular figures of the day say. If most people say something is true, few question what they are expected to think and believe. Yet those who have the Bible have a source of authority that trumps whatever the authorities of the world might decree or teach as fact. Thus the Bible is always a challenge to corrupt authority and any attempts at controlling the masses. The Bible gives all people the chance at wisdom, freedom, and a basis for morality. When the crowds throw it aside as they did Jesus, we must continue on the narrow path since we have recognized the wisdom of the narrow gate already. It should never surprise us that there is not a lot of traffic going our way, but we cannot let that discourage us. The truth doesn’t bow to peer pressure or political correctness, and Jesus will reward those who hold to the truth until the end.
3. There is no real leadership without servanthood, there is no real success without humility, and there is no real prosperity without generosity.
Most authorities on leadership define it as one’s ability to move and influence people, particularly in a larger scale. Thus, the world’s idea of leadership tends to correlate with moving up in the social ranks, making money, and getting media air time. But while influence in and of itself is not a bad thing, what is bad is thinking that it is the end game, particularly if the influence is bad. Mark 9:35 says, “Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.’” Too many who aspire to leadership do so because it tends to attract attention, fame, and the respect of people. Jesus says we should not desire to be first among men as if being number one is a healthy ambition. We should not seek out the attention of the masses, but rather we should be content to do what we do faithfully, consistently, humbly, and without fanfare. In fact, it should greatly concern us if people ever begin to praise us and glory in us rather than in God. If only celebrities spent more time at soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages, they probably wouldn’t get so much attention. Those sort of places don’t make people feel good, and servants don’t usually get the spotlight. But if we want to be honored in heaven, we need to try to be the servant of all people, not seeking out the attention and approval of man but seeking only the approval of God Who should have our full attention. If we want to truly lead, we do it by being a servant and by treating others as better than ourselves. That brings glory to God because that is unusual and that requires a supernatural explanation that can only point back to Christ.
True success requires that we live lives marked by Christian character and perseverance, modeling the fruit of the Spirit as Christ works those things into our hearts by faith. We might be rich or poor, but we can be successful in God’s eyes. We might be prominent or unknown, but if we have Christ in our hearts changing us from the inside out, we can experience spiritual success. Success is certainly not manmade righteousness or a summation of nice behaviors that we might hope would impress God. That attitude reeks of pride because it supposes man can be like God without the sacrificial blood of Christ. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Christ will reward us in heaven at His judgment seat for our faithfulness, but we will only get to that point if we are humble now. Humility is the opposite of selfish ambition, for it is not about self but about surrendering to Christ and giving Him free reign and total control in our hearts to do whatever He asks of us no matter the cost. People who seek out money and power above all else will not care for this kind of approach because it values people and requires sacrifice. But we who have been given life in Christ and a promised inheritance in heaven need not store up treasures on earth. Rather we can be those who give generously as God gives to us, caring for the needs of others and being mindful that all that we have is from God. As 1 John 3:17 says, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” Generosity that goes unnoticed is God’s desire for those who have the ability to help. Matthew 6:2-4 says, “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” It is not about seeking a label of philanthropist or getting one’s name etched in a wall somewhere. It is about God knowing and seeing and that being enough. Anything less forfeits eternal rewards.