One day when I was serving as a chaplain in a Lutheran college, a student came to me and asked if he could talk to me about something he had something he had read in the Bible. The teenager opened up this passage and asked me if it meant that he didn’t have to do what his parents told him anymore.
This text can seem to contradict what is often understood as the basic message of the gospel. We talk a lot about Jesus coming to bring peace to the world, yet here Jesus is saying that he did not come to bring peace but division. So what do we do with these words?
here are times when I hear of people who live in non-Christian countries who face this kind of division when they come to faith in Jesus. These words are very real for them because to become a follower of Jesus means that they are excluded and rejected from their families and communities. They face a very real and difficult choice – to follow Jesus means losing their families and loved ones. Out of love for Jesus, however, this is a sacrifice they are willing to make.
But what about us? We can thank God that we are blessed to live in a country where we don’t face this sort of social exclusion if we are to follow Jesus. However, there are more subtle divisions that can happen when we follow Jesus faithfully and commit to living as his disciples, even in our culture.
In the Animate: Faith course we did a few months ago, there was a session on the Bible where the presenter discussed the idea of ‘dislocated reading.’ She explained that when we read the Bible in different locations, we can hear the words of the Bible in different ways and it can open up new insights for us. Last Monday, I spent some of the day in Rundle Mall while my motorbike was being serviced. I tried this idea of ‘dislocated reading’ by reading this text while I sat in a Rundle Mall food-court. As I reflected on the words, I looked at the shops, the advertising, the consumerism that surrounded me, and the people who were rushing around, caught up in the busyness of a day in the city, I started thinking about this text a little differently.
Living in the way of Jesus is so different from the way of the world. When we look at Jesus, we see someone who values the lost, the last, the least and the lowest people in society. Here is a man who was willing to give up everything by sacrificing his life for the sake of people who are flawed, broken, without hope and trapped in darkness. Jesus is all about what he can give to those of us who need him, no matter what it might cost him. What I witnessed in that food-court, however, is a culture that values beauty, youth, power, and all the trappings that go with a ‘successful’ life, however you want to define that. It is a culture that says that you can buy a sense of identity, self-worth or belonging in the things we purchase or the way we look. The values, ethics and morals of this world are so very different from what Jesus taught.
Maybe that is why the Apostle James wrote,
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?
I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
(James 4:4 NLT)
James knew that the world operates in a very different way from how Jesus teaches and there is no middle ground. Either we are friends of God or we are friends of the world. Either we live in the way of the world, or we follow Jesus in the way of deep grace and self-giving love. Because there is no middle ground between them, it makes sense that Jesus says there will be a divide between those who live in the world’s way and those who follow him. Jesus isn’t calling us to launch some sort of crusade or holy war against the world. Instead, Jesus is saying that when we follow him, we will live in a different way than others who live in the way of the world. This will separate us from the world, and there will be a divide between us and the way we live, and those who live according to the morals, ethics and values of the world.
We live like this because of the peace God gives us through Jesus. The message of the gospel is a message of peace because Jesus’ life, death and resurrection establishes peace between God and us. This gives us peace in our hearts and in reconciled relationships with other people. However, as we live in peace with God, we also come into conflict with the world which doesn’t understand this peace and wants to rob us of this peace. That is the division that comes from faith in Jesus brings – division between those of us who live in God’s peace through faith in Jesus by the power of his Spirit, and those who persist in living according to the world’s values, ethics and morals.
In a few months, we will again hear the angels proclaim the good news that Jesus came to bring peace on earth to those who find favour with God through faith. Living in God’s peace puts us out of step with the world as we live in a very different way. We might not be excluded from our families when we come to faith in Jesus, but it still divides us from the world as we leave behind selfish, shallow ways and find true peace in the way of Jesus.
More to think about:
- In what ways are Jesus’ teachings different from or even conflict with the way of the world?
- What are some ways in which you have had to decide between living in the way of Jesus or the way of the world?
- What do you think your life would be like if you lived every day in the way Jesus teaches?
- Are there areas in your life where you would like to find a greater measure of God’s peace?
- How can God’s peace help us when we are caught between living in the way of Jesus and the world?