I was recently asked the same question by two people I love. One is a follower of Jesus and the other I would categorize as an agnostic. But the question on both of their minds was this: “Why are so many Christians spoiled?”
It is important for us to hear this question. Are we a spoiled people? Is there something in our thinking or in our lives that needs to be addressed?
So often in Scripture we read about Israel operating before God, their Father as “spoiled brats.” They are very quick to forget his gifts, to be discontent with God’s care and simply want things their way. Inherent in this mindset is—“I know better than God!”
This problem wasn’t exclusive to the Old Testament. We see the disciples frustrated with Jesus when he described his upcoming suffering and death (Matthew 16:21-23). The early Church was reminded repeatedly to stop acting like “self-absorbed kids” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Sadly, it seems this issue of spoiled or immature followers of God is a recurring theme. From Genesis to Revelation we see a gracious and loving God patiently bringing his people back to what is right, good, and true. I believe we need God’s perspective once again today.
In Matthew 22:36-40 we read that Jesus was confronted by an expert in the law with the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
A paraphrase of Jesus’ response: “In 2020, with all of its uniqueness and complexities, it still boils down to this. Love God with all you have and are. Also, just love people like I would if I were in your place.”
You might be tempted to say, “But, Nick, we are not saved by the Law. We are saved and live by grace.” I would agree whole-heartedly, but the Law is still accurate and beautiful as a guide for our lives as followers of Jesus.
My wife Barb and I, while on vacation, studied together Gary Thomas’ book, Cherish: The One Word that Changes Everything in Your Marriage. In a nutshell, it addressed the fact that many of us in our marriage vows declared that we would love and cherish our spouse. His premise is that most of us declare our love, but do we cherish our spouse? Does it show up in how we live out our days together? I was confronted with the thought that I can say I would die for Barb, but will I live my days showing it?
Jesus has with perfect clarity declared his love to us through his life and death. The Church is the bride of Christ. We are given this glorious position by grace alone. It is pure gift and we are invited to respond in thankfulness, worship and love. We are called by God to cherish Jesus as we live out our days.
When we cherish Jesus, we are transformed in the process. The position we have been given permeates all we think and do. Our hearts and our minds see things differently than the world does. We see hope and possibility where others see hopelessness and dead ends. When those around us tear down, we look to build up. When others choose to be spoiled and grumpy, followers of Jesus look to deliver grace and truth.
So now we return to the issue of spoiled Christians. Jesus wasn’t selfish or a brat. He didn’t claim that he deserved better when he had to put up with imperfect people day in and day out. He didn’t complain as he lived his life for others. We learn what drove him to such an extraordinary life in Hebrews 12:1-3. In this passage we are also given the key to our following Jesus down this path today.
“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I encourage you to see Jesus today. Look to him and through him at others. Be filled with the joy that has been set before you as you follow Jesus!
Rev. Nick Mundis is Director of North American Mission for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.