The Cost of Service
“Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live one.”
-- Mark 12:43-44
“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”
-- Matt. 5:39-42
“It’s going to start costing us to be Christians.”
This is a common sentiment amongst conservative church leaders in the wake of recent events such as the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage and Affordable Care Act, the Oregon bakery fiasco, and more (even the Confederate flag’s recent falling out of favor is being tied to loss of religious freedom somehow). The process that many had viewed as a gradual change from a culture with a strong Judeo-Christian undercurrent to one more secular and pluralistic in its ilk enjoyed a summer of sharp, decisive shifts in that direction, cheering some and alarming others. A culture once dominated by conservative, Christian thought of some strain and strength is now hearkening to other, radically different voices and the basic rules of society are changing as a result.
This new status quo and the new “normal” it brings to bear in regards to human behavior and social interactions is one that alarms many social conservatives, especially those who consider it their duty before God to live by those same social and political principles. How can a life of outward devotion to God be lived in a society that sees that lifestyle as hateful, bigoted, or worthy of a $135,000 settlement?
“The price for following Christ is about to go up.”
Except it isn’t, not in the slightest. Christ made it clear that following Him would cost his disciples everything. Their homes, their families, their material possessions, even their livelihoods. No aspect of life is exempt from the cost of Cross but is to be gratefully offered to the service of the Kingdom without expectation of repayment.
During its tenure as Leading Social Persuasion, conservative Christianity bought into two very insidious ideas that need to be purged from their collective conscious as their society transitions into its new form.
Material Prosperity/Social Influence as a Sign of God’s Favor
Even a cursory search of the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, reveals that material prosperity is not to be equated with Divine Favor or blessing. Many are the Psalms in which the wicked and the wealthy are one and the same. In Psalm 37, for instance, David laments that the wicked man prospers to the point of being able to enact his devious plots against his more righteous and less advantaged counterpart. In the situation outlined by the Psalmist the pendulum of social power and material wealth is swung completely in favor of the unrepentantly insidious.
But in this and similar Psalms David’s hope is not found in the promise of a society more centered around righteousness or even the idea of a “level=playing” field but rather in the simple refrain that “the Lord loves justice” and that this simple fact will be enough to right the wrongs of men, in this life or the next. This reality, then, ought to be what the 21st century conservative American Christian rests in as well.
The teachings of Christ further dispel the myth of God’s favor being most commonly meted out in the form of material or earthly prosperity. Jesus routinely connected God’s blessing with an adverse state of existence. The Beatitudes in Mathew 5 conveniently catalogues those individuals society will be most inclined to abuse. The meek, the desperate, the broken, and the peacemakers are all more likely to be taken advantage of by their peers than they are to gain an advantage among them.
In short, the idea that earthly well-being is even a common sign of God’s blessing, much less a for-sure one, is an idea that has more relation to the American Dream than it does to God’s Revelation. If the Church hopes to thrive in the apocalyptic wasteland* of a “post-Christian” society, it must embrace this reality.
(*Hyperbole, just to be clear.)
Personal Sacrifice as Optional
The second misconception that feeds the idea of Christ’s yoke becoming heavier in our day and age is that which sees personal sacrifice as an option given to Christians rather than a command. A Christian may lose their savings, their business, their house, and their good name for crossing against culture over the next few years, something that was a rare anomaly in the past on US soil.
But, speaking from a Christian perspective, why were those things ever granted to a follower of Christ if not to lose them to the service of His Kingdom? This is a Kingdom founded, after all, on the One who laid aside his “equality with God” so that He might purchase citizenship for an unworthy populace. Was there ever any question that His expectation was for His followers to do the same?
To sacrifice is to give-up something in a manner or to a degree beyond the control of the giver. The law of the Old Testament, for instance, dictated what could or could nor serve as a suitable sacrifice before God, it was not something left up to personal preference. Similarly, the sacrifice expected by Christ of His followers is equally specific. He does not ask his disciples to give according to their comfort level or individual giftedness. He asks for everything. To withhold an area of life from sacrifice is to withhold it from the presence and use of God. This is a mindset that God is not predisposed to permit, unchastised, in His children.
“The cost of following Christ has never been higher.”
It has also never been lower, because it never fluctuates at all. The only aspect that changes is where and how the cost is paid. Sometimes it is paid directly to God through giving to His church, sometimes through charity shown to a neighbor, or an offering sent to a mission worker. But sometimes the cost is paid at the feet of unrighteous men and an unjust government in coerced “service” to their cause. Fear not, Christian, for this, too, will be counted to you as righteousness. This, too, is an offering before God; this, too, is worship.
But it is no more or less worship than is supporting your church, serving your neighbors, or sharing your life, freely, with others. After all, you were given these things, your gifts, your time, your resources, for just such a purpose of this. And while it would be wrong and improper to state that those who suffer at the hands of unjust men do so because of a moral failure on the part of the persecuted (and certainly am not making that argument here), it does seem worthwhile to mention that, perhaps, just perhaps, God has ways of extracting from the clenched fists of His children that which should have sat lightly upon their open hands.