We’ve seen thus far that Christians will want to repudiate certain cultural forms or practices because they neither honor God nor bless human beings. But that doesn’t mean that all culture beyond the pale of the Kingdom is to be avoided. Some aspects of culture in the unbelieving world are quite good, and can be appropriated by the followers of Christ to help us in our work of seeking and advancing the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of engaging culture from within the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is our calling to redirect culture away from ourselves to the needs of others and the glory of God.
Typically we think of culture as those artifacts, institutions, and conventions that we create or use in order to define, sustain, and enrich our lives. And culture certainly is that.
Yet in the Kingdom of God the creation and use of culture must not be undertaken for mere self-interest. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it – including all culture, and all the culture that makes up our individual lives (Ps. 24.1). In the Kingdom of God we understand that a new economy has arrived on the human scene. That economy calls for self-denial and sacrifice in the service of others, and this includes all the culture of our lives.
The first Christians
The first Christians understood this implicitly.
They immediately saw that the various forms of culture in their possession were not to be grasped. Instead, they gave up their goods as situations arose in order to meet the needs of the community as a whole.
The believers in Jerusalem began sharing possessions, giving up money, opening their homes for prayer and fellowship, selling excess property to care for the needs of the poor, and making gifts of clothing for others. The cultural resources at their disposal, which they had previously used only for themselves and those closest to them, became powerful tools for expressing the love of God among the members of the Body of Christ and the surrounding community.
All good gifts of culture, whether made or appropriated, are not to be kept as private possessions, to be indulged only by those who “own” them. The earth is the Lord’s, and when the Lord’s people have needs, the Lord calls His people to redirect their cultural resources to help meet the needs of others.
This redirecting of culture is most readily observable in two ways.
First, giving: The first Christians were generous to a fault. They gave money to support the poor, care for widows, provide for ministers, relieve the victims of famine, and further the work of missions. They gave readily and abundantly in a society where monetary resources were, in the main, scarce, and where people were accustomed to pinching every penny and consuming all their income on themselves. Christians gave liberally and joyfully, thus making available a wealth of tangible evidence that a new reality – the Kingdom of God – had broken into history.
Second, by the practice of hospitality Christians demonstrated that, in the Body of Christ, believers were all family members with one Father and one King. Christians offered their homes as meeting places for churches, temporary shelters for those in need of housing, and venues within which to strengthen the bonds of fellowship with other members. They shared meals together, worshiped together, and, doubtless, laughed and played together in one another’s homes.
Money and homes were only the most prominent ways that Christians redirected their cultural possessions for advancing the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price. And all that we have belongs to Him Who bought us, and Who calls us to show His love by every means to the watching world, including the culture He has entrusted to us.
What are some ways that a local church serves to redirect the gifts of culture to meet the needs of others? Ask one of your church’s deacons to explain.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.