Okay, let me pick up where I left off.
Last time I talked mostly about the apostles, I’m heading over to Paul now. Surely nobody got weirder than he did.
I’ve been reading Galatians and some of the background, and Paul had some serious problems along the way. Start with the fact that Christ chose the man who most resisted the church to help grow it, and you get a pretty good frame of reference for just how nutty Paul’s life got.
The first major obstacle is obviously his rapid change. I’m kind of surprised anybody ever believed him, frankly. Even the timing of the conversion in Acts makes it kind of crazy. Acts Chapter 7, Paul is making sure Stephen has no pulse. Acts 9, Jesus gives Paul a new life direction. I think Luke (the writer of Acts, many believe) did it like that on purpose. He wanted us to understand that it really was that quick, that ironic, that bizarre.
The first few times Paul told his story, I bet it would have been fun to watch. “No, seriously. I saw him. He struck me blind. I’ve changed my mind. I’m a follower of Jesus.” It’s likely that he would have, for years, been going to church with people who bore the scars of beatings he instrumented. The family and friends of people who were dead because of him. And now he expected these people to call him brother?
Once he’s starting to get past that, he has people came behind him to the Galatian Christians who tell them that Paul doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that he’s just following the whole fad of being a Christian. Saying that he never saw Jesus, that he has no authority to preach. Also, telling them that they have to be circumcised before they can call themselves Christ followers. These guys were called Judaizers, and they thought that all of the law of Moses should still supercede the teaching of Christ. Apparently they never heard the Sermon on the Mount.
Paul had to defend himself to a church he helped start. He had to go backwards with them to help them go forwards.
It’s worth noting that at this point, the word “Christian” still wasn’t something people knew. Followers of “The Way” (Jesus) were still a really new movement, and it took time to get the word out. Since Jesus started his ministry among Jews, a lot of the early converts tried to sew it into the fabric of Jewish life, which they already understood. Once again, it’s too bad they never heard the Sermon on the Mount. They would know that people who follow Jesus don’t try to impose their will on others, they show up with nothing. Wait… seriously? Nothing at all? Surely that can’t be true. Yet it is.
Show up unprepared
Jesus told his disciples to show up empty-handed. I wager this is a verse very few sermons have been preached from, Jesus’ instructions to his followers for starting new ministries:
9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.
That’s some craziness. What? Take nothing? No money? Jesus, look… if we do this, we’re going to be a joke. You really want us to go into a town where nobody knows us, and immediately start asking them to feed us?
This is a start contrast to the approach of religious leaders of the day. Not only do they live in the temple (remember Samuel and Eli in 1 Samuel?), a house infinitely better than any commoner would have occupied, but they also had the finest vestments and robes. They appeared to have a lot. The Judaizers who tried to undermine Paul’s work showed up knowing a lot. Jesus takes his disciples to the farthest extreme from that: own nothing. Take the word that you have received and nothing else. Not even a change of clothes. Seriously, we can’t even do that when we go stay overnight with a friend we already know. Jesus told his disciples to do that among strangers.
the temptation to “feast with the full”
12 Then he turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. 13 Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
Jesus encouraged people to invite guests who had no capacity to pay them back in kind. In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says, “He uses the particular occasion to correct the prevailing practice of neglecting those in real need while we feast with the full who will reciprocate by doing something for us.”
I told you this was going to get weird. To show up with nothing in hand, you have no capacity to garner favors. It prevents you from using the name of Christ to take personal gain, therefore totally missing the point of the gospel. Jesus tells us to make ourselves nothing. He tells us to expect nothing. He tells us to hang out with people who can return nothing. How will we ever get ahead if all we have is… nothing?
I think the answer is simple, but hard to live: there’s more value in having nothing and having Christ than in having everything and missing him entirely. Inflicting rules and opinions on people instead of letting them find the freedom of Christ is no better. To disciple someone is to go to where they are and travel alongside them, not throw words at them from a distance.
The example of Jesus was personal for a reason. He came to where we are with nothing, and asked no less of his disciples. The value of “nothing” has been lost among a wealthy and prosperous people. When nothing obstructs our view of him, we truly do have everything.