I keep looking for scriptures in the Bible where Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, care for the widows, orphans and aliens (foreigner/immigrant/refugee)–but only if we can do so while preserving our safety and comfort and that it’s fine to distance ourselves from those in need and just send some extra money now and then.
Maybe the caveat to the command is in there somewhere, and I just missed it.
A priority for self-preservation, however, seems to be what a large number of folks who claim Christ appear to embrace. Some clearly state their endorsement by preaching a gospel of prosperity. Others acknowledge that scripture doesn’t teach the idea of guarded love and charity but support ideologies that imply otherwise. They live their lives chasing safety, security and comfort. Of course we all want to be safe, but at what cost?
We can quote “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33) and then choose to interpret these words to mean only the trouble we can’t avoid, control, or insure against. However, I’m not sure that is the intent or true meaning of the verse. Based on other verses, it appears more likely that this is an “it’s part of the job” statement. We are to be disciples of Christ. Disciples follow and learn from, and about, their leaders in order to be as much like them as possible.
It might be worth a self-check to determine if our acceptance of Jesus and his message is solely an insurance policy against hell or a desire to be an actual disciple, with all of the struggle and growth that requires.
If our goal is to be like Jesus, why would we think that life would be a peaceful, easy, safe journey? His journey certainly wasn’t devoid of dissension and danger. His message was at odds with both the political powers of the day and the religious experts. Maybe, just maybe, ours should be too.
When I’ve gone where He sent me I’ve ended up in an orphanage in a third world county, cooking and serving meals for the poor in the inner city and hanging out in a strip club. I wouldn’t have chosen any of these. All were frightening in the beginning and definitely were never safe. However, I learned and grew more in my relationship with Christ in those places than in any church pew or by serving in safe places.
Jesus told us to expect trouble but that our peace would be in him. Often his ways don’t make sense to us. However, we’re told his way overcomes worldly ways. Jesus didn’t tell his followers then, or us now, to follow a checklist – read the Torah/Bible, give money to the church and the poor, go to the temple/church, chat with me (pray) when you need something – and I’ll bless you here on earth with a safe and comfortable life. If we’re honest, we may even think he also secretly adds that “Since you’re American and I love you more than my other children, you deserve a comfy home, two cars and an extravagant amount of food and clothes purely for your personal enjoyment!” We want and enjoy the blessings while ignoring much of what he taught, including that we would (and possibly even should) have trouble.
When he said, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3), it seems that he meant all those directives about putting our trust and our very lives in his hands. It sounds like he means for us to go into unsafe places and situations, to potentially be in close proximity to those who might want to harm us in some way. While this seems counter-intuitive and possibly even foolish, we know that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” (Isaiah 55:8).
We are called to love like Jesus, to share his redemptive love with others through deed and “if necessary, use words.” So, what does love do?
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes,always perseveres.” (1 Cor.13:7) Loving our neighbors and our enemies like this is how to “work out your salvation,” how we become disciples who reflect Christ. I think it’s intentional that each of those actions is preceded by always. I’m guessing he’s stressing the point that he really means always, not just when it’s easy or convenient or safe.
We tend to leave off the rest of that passage in our minds –“continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13) If we’re allowing God to work in us so that we’ll desire (will) to do something (act) to fulfill his purpose, it will likely be with fear and trembling.
Paul acknowledges his own “great fear and trembling” in coming to the church in Corinth but he did so because he had “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” He notes the Corinthian’s own “fear and trembling” in receiving Titus. (2 Cor.7:15)
Where is our resolve? What Christ-like course of action are we determined enough to do, even in fear and trembling? Anything we choose to do to insure our personal comfort, or even our personal safety, that obstructs Jesus’s command to love may, at best, be a sign of our lack of maturity in our faith. At worst, it may be a red flag that we don’t really trust Jesus or truly believe what he said. I’ve begun asking myself often as I process events or conversations or things I’ve read, “Do I really believe what I say I believe?” It’s a piercing question that will both stretch you and solidify the foundation of your faith.
Jesus did not have comfort or safety. There were constant pulls on his time and his energy. At every turn, he was confronted by people who didn’t understand him, who didn’t approve of his methods and who eventually conspired to crucify him.
Two thousand plus years later, not much has changed. Much of his church is more interested in their own form of Christianity based on following rules, given by both God and man. It’s about not sinning and pointing out when someone else does. It’s about sitting in our chairs and pews and being encouraged and entertained rather than doing what Jesus told us to do: “Go!”
If we want to be his disciples, to represent him, we should be stepping out in faith, welcoming and helping the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the lost, remembering as we do that we should “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sister, whenever you are faced with trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-5)
There is no real test in comfort and safety. There is no growth of our faith or in our becoming more like Jesus. If we are truly trying to following Jesus, shouldn’t our desire to love others always be more important than our safety and comfort?
Here is my prayer for myself, and for you, from Common Prayer:
Deliver me, O Jesus,
from the desire to be esteemed,
from the desire to be loved,
from the desire to be honored,
from the desire to be praised,
from the desire to be preferred to others,
from the desire to be consulted,
from the desire to be approved,
and from the desire to be popular.
Deliver me, O Jesus
from the fear of being humiliated,
from the fear of being despised,
from the fear of being rebuked,
from the fear of being slandered,
from the fear of being forgotten,
from the fear of being wronged,
from the fear of being treated unfairly,
and from the fear of being suspected.
And, dear Jesus, grant me grace to desire that
others might be more loved than I,
that others might be more esteemed than I,
that in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I decrease,
that others may be chosen and I may be set aside,
that others may be preferred to me in everything,
that others become holier than I , provided that I, too, become as holy as I can.
Common Prayer – A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove
All verses from the NIV