The Message of Jesus transcends Empire.
Jesus turned the Empire on its head because He transcended it. Too often, however, our approach remains framed by the Empire. Solutions to the system cannot come from the system itself.
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A Helpful Metaphor
God stepped into a specific time and space in human history bringing one covenant to an end, inaugurating a new covenant. Time was split in half, humanity’s trajectory was forever altered, and history was permanently changed. It was every bit like an alien invasion; although, not at all like one. In hindsight, we know it was an act of incomprehensible love: Father God restoring His family to Himself, re-commissioning them as custodians of creation. In Year Zero, however, it was brutal, revolutionary, disorienting. Confronting.
The Message of Jesus is captured in the phrase the Gospel of the Kingdom, a politically charged phrase used of none other than Caesar himself. In using this loaded phrase, Jesus confronted the dominant backdrop of His day, an all-pervasive Roman Empire fuelled by an inescapable framing narrative that usurped all under its corrupt power—even co-opting the Jewish religion in overt and covert ways. The Empire was very much like an all-powerful machine ravenously gobbling up everything in its wake.
Jesus not only cast a transcendent vision of a way of life that superseded this societal machine, His teachings embedded in society effectively drained the Empire of the fuel it required to operate. Jesus had likened His Kingdom to yeast that leavens an entire loaf, and so it proved (Luke 13:20, 21). Through the decades, and indeed centuries, His followers contended for immediate change where possible but also demonstrated courage and vigilance where change was more gradual. Much of what’s good and durable about Western society stems from these Judeo-Christian values. (Yes much progress is still required, but all the values necessary for a more humane society are available to us.)
Since machines are the archetypal metaphor of our technological age, let’s build on this machine-speak to look under the hood at what constitutes a societal machine and to understand how its components interrelate. The goal is to discern how Empire manifests today and to tackle the framing narrative that enslaves today’s world.
Before we do that, let’s first consider how deeply stuck the Jewish people were in the machine of the Empire.
Year Zero Reactions
While the big picture of Jesus’ day was the oppressive Empire, what is sometimes overlooked is the degree to which the Jewish people—obviously, the people to whom Jesus primarily aimed His ministry (Matthew 15:24)—were completely entrenched within this crippling framing narrative. If we fail to understand the implications of this, we’ll struggle to grasp the urgency and intent of Jesus’ call to action.
Despite how holy and separate the Jews sought to remain (and their stubborn resistance to the Empire’s oppressive regime was admirable), they reacted in four different ways to the framing reference of their day. Think of these four reactions as defining systems of thought (belief) and practice (lifestyle). There’s no doubt that most of these groups believed they were acting in response to revelation from God.
Some sought to escape it. The fatalistic Essenes offered the confused Jew the chance to bury their head in the sand. Literally. Withdrawing into the wilderness, they sought to flee the oppression.
Some sought to confront it. The Zealots offered the fanatical Jew an outlet of militant aggression. Calling for repentance from complacency, they sought liberty through aggressive resistance—leaning on the stories of the Old Testament’s military heroes.
In a similar spirit of confrontation; however, using a different tactic, some sought to resist it. The Pharisees also preached repentance, but called for a return to meticulous piety, believing that only scrupulous religion would deliver God’s people. “If we’re just holy enough, God will deliver us!”
Finally, some sought to compromise and coexist with the Empire. The Sadducees and Herodians offered the compromising Jew an alliance with the Empire. Despite their differences with each other, both the Sadducees and Herodians bought into the basic line: “If you can’t beat them, join them”—or at least, try to coexist with the “big picture” in ways that benefit you.
Therefore, despite their attempts to remain a people set apart, all these systemic reactions to the Empire’s dominant narrative served only to reinforce the centrality of Caesar, exacerbating the overriding societal injustices, and perpetrating the political and religious oppression of the time. In other words, these reactions (perceived by the Essenes, Zealots and Pharisees as revelation received from God) kept the Jewish people enslaved to Caesar—some profiting from the Empire, most exploited by it, all bound and dependent on it.
Think about that for a moment.
Tragically, for all their bravado and bluster, these defining reactions only existed because they’d accepted (and were thus, aligned to) Caesar’s Empire. They were, in fact, cogs in Rome’s societal machine. Like self-cannibalising fungi, they sprouted in the soiled, septic shadow cast by Caesar. Think Neo stuck in the Matrix—a movie that remains a startling metaphor for us.
When the Caesars proclaimed their gospel of the kingdom, declaring that their reign would bring favour upon the world, the citizens and slaves of Rome, both Gentile and Jew, were assured of one thing: those rightly aligned to Caesar, and assiduously paying the required dues, would remain beneficiaries of the Empire. The rest would remain subject to successive bouts of the tyrannical ruler’s oppressive and capricious reign.
The juggernaut of the Empire would charge forward relentlessly and thus, these defining responses would continue to propagate its toxic values. Despite their utter devotion to Jehovah, and abhorrence of Caesar, the corruption of the Empire sprouted in every corner of the Jewish nation. They paid homage to God but lived lives defined by Caesar. (This last sentence is distressingly poignant.)
In contrast to Year Zero reactions, see The Biblical Response to the Kingdom in the Notes below.
The Primary Societal Mechanisms
Since the dawn of time, in both ancient and modern civilisations (of course, in varying degrees of development and priority), human society has utilised the following three primary societal mechanisms to serve and support itself…
- Religion (Ideology), a society’s dogma of beliefs—pantheism, theism, atheism, etc.
- Politics (Statecraft), a society’s philosophy of governance—autocracy, democracy, etc.
- Economics (Commerce), a society’s system of wealth—communism, socialism, capitalism, etc.
While describing these three primary mechanisms as separate and distinct cogs serves to clarify each component, it goes without saying that in many cases, these mechanisms are not disparate entities. Often, they inform and shape each other, and are typically greater than the sum of their parts, as we’ll explore in a moment.
Secondary Societal Systems
While these three interrelated and interlocking mechanisms are the core of the societal machine, there are two other critical facets to consider in completing the picture:
1. The Means of Control
The Means of Control are used to protect and promote the societal machine. These include the use of cultural mores, the levying of taxes, the utilisation of media influence and the use of military power.
It goes without saying that the means of control may, in themselves, be neutral, and can be used for good. Benign cultural values and customs which promote peace and justice, for example, are essential. So too is effective communication and news coverage, and such like.
2. The Operational Systems
Both cooperative and counteractive operational systems rise in any society. The former seek to support or profit from the societal machine, the latter seek to correct or confront it.
Again, the systems themselves might be neutral and used for benevolent purposes. For instance, supportive education systems, judicial systems, law enforcement and medical systems are all essential to a functioning society.
Counteractive systems that address a society’s inconsistencies of conscience are crucial, too. Of course, there are also a myriad of counteractive systems that are malevolent by intent and design, especially when they’re ideologically designed to defend or oppose the machine.
Necessary & Beneficial
It is important to point out that the above mechanisms and systems are both necessary and beneficial for organising and managing human society. Without them, society reverts to anarchy and chaos, and in states of flux, the power-hungry take advantage.
It’s also important to note that these systems are defined by and are dependent on the machine—even those that run counter to it derive their reason for being from the machine’s framework. The Jewish people’s four reactions to the framing narrative of the Roman Empire (escape, confront, resist or coexist), which we covered above, is a good example of this.
So, while the societal machine can (and should) serve society, the problem is that these mechanisms, means of control and operational systems—according to history, a history that has a nasty habit of repeating itself—eventually go rogue. Why? At least two reasons. On the one hand, a society can go off the rails through neglect and excess. On the other hand, a society can hit the skids when hijacked by nefarious agendas. Either way, the result is the same: the machine deepens humanity’s needs instead of solving them, enslaving humanity instead of serving us.
The Roman Empire was, in so many ways, a brilliant societal machine in its day; however, the social dysfunctions and injustices it spawned are just as renowned, if not more so.
Admittedly, my diagnosis is terribly simplistic; in reality, it’s a thousand times more complex. Hopefully, the sketches above convey the point conceptually.
Human Hierarchy: Helpful or Harmful?
At this juncture, and before we dive into how a societal machine goes rogue, it’s worth being crystal clear about the merits of human hierarchy and structure. Why is this important?
As agents of the Message of Jesus, contending for change, it’s critical that we confront the corruption and injustice of our day without torching the many good and vital aspects of human society.
This is especially important in a day when neo-marxist ideologies seek to burn everything to the ground. Let’s not forget, we’re standing on the shoulders of generations before us. Yes, these past generations were imperfect, as future generations will no doubt say of us. However, if you and your loved ones are living on the eightieth floor of a building, you don’t take a wrecking ball to the lower floors because the electricity of the building needs rewiring. You identify the problem carefully and seek out solutions that address the issue without pulling down the building on top of you and your loved ones.
To the degree two or more people want to achieve a shared goal, to this degree a measure of organisation is required. Organising ourselves requires an efficient and effective structure with related systems of operation to accomplish our shared mission, values and plans.
As our organising efforts become more complex, leadership is required, and this leadership is best achieved when offered by those in their areas of competence. This concept of structure (and its related systems) allied with competent-based leadership is called a hierarchy. Indeed, without a hierarchy of values, we cannot even agree on the shared goal.
Even as individuals, we need a degree of structure in our lives to operate in an organised manner. Without systems of operation, we’d oversleep, eat terribly and turn up late for work. Again, without a personal hierarchy of values, we would struggle to prioritise what’s important in our lives.
Even the human body itself is a hierarchy of structure and systems. It has a skeletal structure and various systems—the nervousness system, the digestive system, and so on. If the body’s structure or systems are exposed, it faces critical danger; yet without the structure and systems, the body would be utterly incapable of functioning.
Thus, hierarchies, structures and systems are not inherently corrupt in themselves. Of course, they can be. Those born on racial ideologies, for example, are corrupt from the start.
In contrast to those spawned on dubious or unethical foundations, many hierarchies (structures and systems) are merely neutral and functional. They are helpful not harmful.
In terms of two or more individuals organising themselves around a shared goal, the hierarchy exists to serve their coordinated efforts in line with the agreed objective. However, the moment the organisation starts to serve the hierarchy itself, the group should endeavour to make the changes necessary to correct it. Typically, a hierarchy serves its function well to the degree it remains based on competency rather than power.
Hierarchies: The Bad & The Ugly
Thus, while hierarchies are often helpful and good, there are bad and ugly versions, too.
Over time, even in healthy, value-based organisations, hierarchies tilt towards dysfunction and go bad if the organisation fails to maintain the integrity of the competency-based system and keep in check the power-based inclinations of its most talented and charismatic players.
In the worst case ugly scenario, hierarchies skew towards autocracy as power-seeking individuals either exploit weaknesses in the structure and systems or co-opt it through the sheer force of their personality. Corrupt people corrupt hierarchies—sometimes consciously; often unconsciously.
The result? Others are disposed by the now dysfunctional or corrupt hierarchy and are often exploited by the resultant systemic bias. A once helpful hierarchy can be become harmful.
Before we pre-judge who these villainous people who lord it over others are likely to be, we’d do well to face the villain in the mirror. We are all subject to the temptation to abuse an otherwise neutral structure or system for self-gain. Unchecked self-interest morphs into power-seeking with disturbing ease. In contrast, being honest about our own bent towards self-advancement is an important start, as personal integrity fosters public efficacy. Candid about human nature, we’ll then ensure our structure and systems enjoy the necessary checks and balances to keep them neutral and free from misuse and exploitation.
Generally speaking, inequality is the result of two things: individual prejudice or systemic bias.
Individual Prejudice & Systemic Bias
Acting on personal prejudice, an individual might oppress or exploit another person. To regularly abuse this second person, the oppressor would need some tacit sense of power to continue doing so. Or otherwise, the oppressed person could withstand them in some way.
While the oppressor might enjoy this power due to some personal advantage, such as physical strength for instance, in many (most?) cases, exploitation is possible because the oppressor feels entitled to do so—because the hierarchy in which the two exist permits it in some way.
Now, the word ‘prejudice’ means to make a pre-judgement. Technically, it refers to, “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”.
So, while the oppressor may not only be supported by the corrupt hierarchy in which both parties exist (for example, the work place or society at large), their individual prejudices might also be a product of the corrupt hierarchy itself, or perhaps another dysfunctional hierarchy (their home environment or their culture, for instance) in which they learnt their preconceived notions.
Thus, individual prejudice is not necessarily independent of systemic bias. It might be, of course, but often it’s not. That said, and to be crystal clear, whether an individual is supported by a corrupt hierarchy or not, every individual is responsible for their own actions.
Because the Gospel addresses the heart first and foremost, it equips us to deal with the self-centred and self-advancing motivations that cause dysfunction and corruption at the source.
Jesus recast His vision of an ekklesia who model the values of His kingdom often. When the disciples got themselves into a pickle trying to big dog each other (Matthew 20:20-28), Jesus grabbed another opportunity:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.”
(Matthew 20:25, 26, italics added)
Pointing out that those in positions of authority had corrupted the societal hierarchies of the day with their abuse of power, Jesus declared, “yet it shall not be so among you”.
While this has direct implications for the way communities of faith ought to function, it also speaks of the values of the Kingdom that followers of Jesus are to model in the world.
In a passage on leadership, James expanded on the power of leaders who practice self-control in their words and actions (James 3:1-12) and provided a recipe for godly wisdom, comparing it against the self-seeking agenda of corrupt leaders:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”
(James 3:13-17, italics added)
The hierarchies of organisations, businesses, governmental bodies and political parties need followers of Jesus who demonstrate the “wisdom that is from above”, wisdom that is…
- willing to yield,
- full of mercy and good fruits,
- without partiality and
- without hypocrisy.
Society’s Framing Narrative
History teaches us that all societal machines eventually go rogue. We’ve suggested two reasons why this happens, the question now is, how … how does this happen? Obviously, if a tyrant rules the machine wielding absolute power, it’s not difficult to understand how it happens. But how does a machine go rogue in more democratic societies with so many moving parts?
The primary mechanisms described above—religion, politics and economics—fuse together, creating a society’s value system or what we’ll call the societal framing narrative. To keep to the metaphor, it’s this framing narrative that becomes the fuel driving the societal machine.
A host of other factors also play a part in shaping a society’s framing narrative, such as a society’s inception story, their geography, climatology and natural resources, and the threats and fears they experienced historically and face presently.
The narrative is maintained and developed through oral traditions, written records, cultural rites and events, significant societal achievements and advancements or critical failures and setbacks, and influential leadership figures. Consider the differences between civilisations such as the Egyptian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, eighteen and nineteenth-century imperial Empires, and modern-day Western society, each based on their dominant framing narrative.
Here’s another way to think of a societal machine and its framing narrative.
If the components of the societal machine—mechanisms, means of control and operational systems—are a computer’s hardware, the framing narrative is the software, the operating system itself. While the hardware is essentially neutral, the operating system determines whether the computer serves a noble or nefarious purpose.
And just as the first century societal machine was diseased, our twenty-first century mainframe is riddled with multiple computer viruses.
As mentioned, the framing narrative of Jesus’ day was essentially one of oppressive domination by the Roman Empire captured in the (coerced) allegiant profession, Caesar is Lord.
This corrupt narrative drove the societal machine into the ground, polluting its Primary Societal Mechanisms (religion, politics and economics) with its toxic values and co-opting the Means of Control and Operating Systems to infect first-century society with a plethora of societal dysfunction, injustice and oppression.
This is why Jesus told a transcendent but tangible story, one that didn’t just offer an improved fuel source to drive the machine, but one that gave us an entirely different “machine”.
The Incredible Power of a Framing Narrative
A society’s framing narrative weaves together the myriad unconnected societal plots and cultural subplots of a society into one gripping trajectory arc. Simply put, the individuals involved become embroiled in their society’s narrative.
Every human society—both ancient and modern, from as small as a family unit to as large as a nation or civilisation—moves in tune with a prevailing narrative. This provides an identity framework that informs the purpose, meaning, values and behaviour of its inhabitants, determining the answers to questions like:
- Where did we come from?
- Where are we going?
- What is an individual’s role in the story?
- What are the cultural mores and communal rules we live by?
- Why does this all matter?
Belonging to a group—family or tribe, faith community or sports team, political party or nation—brings an individual under the influence of that group’s framing narrative, for good and bad (and in some cases, more bad than good). And while every group has its share of radical adherents, compliant adherents, apathetic adherents, and rebellious adherents; it’s important to realise that both the fanatic and the rebel, and everyone in between, define themselves in relation to the group’s narrative.
This is important to grasp.
We derive our sense of being (purpose, meaning, values, and behaviour) directly from our society’s framing narrative. In other words, a society’s narrative explains how multiple individual minds work together—in both conscious, deliberate ways and unconscious, ingrained ways—as a unified corporate mind, one coordinated and coherent collective. As already stated, we as individuals become enmeshed within our societal story. A frightening thought.
One of the more telling and localised examples of this phenomenon—multiple individual minds working together as a unified corporate mind—is mob violence or vandalism wherein common sense alludes otherwise intelligent, moral individuals who, caught up in the emotion of an event, subjugate themselves to flagrantly immoral collective action. Those sucked into such mob-fuelled indiscretions are often, after the fact, racked with grief and regret, confessing something along the lines of “I don’t know what came over me.”
I personally observed this during my four years at university from 1990-1993 in South Africa, a combustible period prior to Nelson Mandela’s presidency. Many of my good friends, who played club and uni soccer with me, participated in mob-fuelled destruction of university property in riots that cost many millions of dollars of damage. When I questioned them later, they could barely recall many of the actions that I personally witnessed them perpetrating.
The same principle is at work in more subtle (and often, subversive) ways in all groupings of people.
So, while it’s easy to pinpoint the effects of ‘peer-pressure’ in our teenagers, or point out the pressures involved in being a member of a criminal gang; in reality, these conforming (and oftentimes, corrupting) pressures are present and pervasive in all cultural affiliations and group associations. “Bad company corrupts good character”, is not just a caution young people should heed (1 Corinthians 15:33, NLT).
Unmasking Empire; Exposing Caesar
A society’s framing narrative is often seen through the ‘messages’ it rehearses to itself, sound bites that pop up in the society’s songs and movies, in media and news feeds, in scientific journals and bylaws, in its leaders’ rhetoric and even in its president’s speeches. So, consider what a society would look like, and what trajectory it might follow, if it was an amalgam of the following messages:
- Only the fittest survive—the strongest and smartest must dominate and control those they perceive as weaker and inferior.
- Live fast while you hold off the aging process—strive for the maximum amount of pleasure for the longest period of time (and get it all as quickly as possible).
- Look after number one at all costs—get all you can, can all you get, and then sit on the can.
- There are no limits to the planet’s resources—our actions in the present will have no consequences in the future. (Or nothing that science and technology cannot deal with at a later date. A blind faith that technology will bail us out.)
As it turns out, it’s not hard to imagine this at all. Along with other messages of the same kind, this societal ‘self-talk’ combines to form the framing narrative of our Western world today. Inflicted by chronic myopia, twenty-first-century humanity has morphed into a deranged monster-consumer guzzling through the planet’s resources, standing on everyone and everything in its way to get a ‘slice of the pie’—dangerously blind to the consequences that lie in wait around the corner.
As the Empire co-opted Jewish religion in the first century, Christendom has likewise become co-opted by twenty-first century madness. In trying to be relevant to the culture, it seems a large portion of Christendom has been swallowed by it. Fixated on an “up there, after life” theology, another large portion has simply been swamped in the flood of society’s framing narrative.
On the one hand, a me-centred faith runs rife while on the other hand, an escapist faith keeps many detached from reality.
With Christendom complicit or distracted, our societal machine goes rogue. For the first time in history, our modern-day machine has the potential to not just grind our society into dust but to also destroy our planet.
Consider the following two diagrams…
Could it be any clearer? Let’s put a name to this, shall we?
We defined the framing narrative of Jesus’ day as essentially one of oppressive domination by the Roman Empire which is captured in the (coerced) allegiant profession, Caesar is Lord.
We could define our Western world’s prevailing narrative in three ideas: humanism, materialism and Marxist postmodernism.
I realise that’s a mouthful. So let me just define them in simple terms and unpack them a little further in the Notes below.
- Humanism makes “me” the centre of everything, and my happiness the primary goal.
- Materialism cons me into believing that material things are the means by which I secure my happiness.
- Marxist Postmodernism frames every relationship as a power struggle, a battle that must be won at all costs to secure my happiness.
These three ideas form a powerful overriding framework, an ideology, that defines much of the fractious society we live in today.
To state it in a simple, almost trite term, the new Caesar is Self, as we’re conditioned to pander to all things that concern me, myself and I.
We’re a society of people who insist on our personal rights yet are quick to abdicate our responsibilities. We’ve become an entitled generation that treats privileges as expectations, and tacitly believes that the ‘world exists to make me happy.’ We pursue self-enrichment with ruthless abandon and prize self-actualisation above all things.
In a twist of Jesus’ words, our society is happy to lose its soul to gain the whole world. To put a finer point on it, many seem happy to lose their soul for 30 seconds of fame. Blind to the irony, we cannot see that our rampant self-centredness could in fact lose the world, literally.
The King and His Kingdom
Jesus envisioned an ekklesia, an executive body against which the powers of darkness would falter and fall (Matthew 16:18, 19). It was not a coincidence that immediately after this breathtaking vision, Jesus taught these words:
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
(Matthew 16:24-26, italics added)
The Kingdom advances through an ekklesia that has slayed, not pandered to, Self—followers of Jesus who swim upstream against the deluge of humanistic individualism.
An executive body united by its outrageous love for God, defined by its extravagant love for others. An executive body that backs up its Christ-centred lives and Christ-filled communities with good deeds that bring the Father glory (Matthew 5:16).
A new society fuelled by love, invested with wisdom from above. A new society from where agents of change model the values of the Kingdom; first, confronting the self-centredness and prejudice in their own hearts, and then serving the world in acts of kindness, gentleness and mercy while advocating for the poor and marginalised of society.
The Issue of Privilege
The subject of “privilege” is a thorny one in today’s Culture War and it often evokes knee-jerk reactions from both those who use it as a club to beat others and from those clubbed by it.
The truth is, privilege exists. As a white male, I have had opportunities in life that friends who aren’t white or male have not. For me to deny this would be both foolish and short-sighted.
However, it’s also true that if you zoom out sufficiently, we’re all privileged in comparison to others in terms of either geography or history. In terms of geography, if you live in the Western world, you’re more than likely in the top 20% of the world’s wealth bracket and around 70% of the world’s population eats worse than your dustbin. If we zoom out further historically, the poverty levels this generation of human beings suffer is better in comparison to generations past.
In other words, we all enjoy some degree of privilege. We will always find someone less privileged than we are in either space or time. Said another way, we all enjoy relative privilege, if not always obvious privilege.
Self-awareness helps us acknowledge the privileges we’ve inherited, producing humility and gratitude.
Then, through the practice of humility and appreciation, we work to deserve any privilege we enjoy and use our privileges to serve others, creating a better future for us all. When the blind carries the lame, both walk forward.
Privilege and Guilt
Should we feel guilty for the privileges we’ve enjoyed?
What happens when we realise we’ve been the beneficiary of a system that actually exploits and suppresses others? (And living in the relative affluence of the Western World, we do benefit from systems that do just this.) Do we begrudge our privileges and feel guilty?
Fortunately, Paul spoke directly into the matter.
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
(1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Firstly, we’re to dodge the bullet of haughtiness.
The word “conceited” means, “to be arrogant, snooty and puffed-up;” a perfect description of the self-righteous. It’s so easy to allow our privilege—which we had nothing to do with—to become something we think we’re entitled to, something that makes us better than those without privilege.
Next, we’re to set our hope “on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.”
This is a masterpiece of advice. Paul tells us to reaffirm our dependence in God, expressing gratitude to Him for whatever privileges we have, being sure to enjoy all He gives. There is no need to despise what we have, or to detest our privileged upbringing in a spirit of ingratitude and self-loathing.
Then we’re to be “rich in good works.”
And here’s the rub. We’re to use our advantages for the benefit of others, to serve our fellow man and improve our world. We’re to abandon the seducing path of self-enrichment and instead be “rich in good works.” Giving up our pursuit of pleasure and treasure, we’re to pursue God’s Kingdom come, His will on earth.
Jesus made it clear: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). In God’s eyes, privilege equals responsibility. So, the question becomes, “How do I use my privilege intentionally and extravagantly for the good of others and the betterment of the world?”
In so doing, we’re investing in God’s Kingdom: “Storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future.”
Using our privilege for the benefit of others is both an eternal investment and it serves to unlock God’s will, “as it is in heaven,” here on earth. Paul, in words similar to a statement Jesus made—“do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:29)—exhorts us to invest in what truly matters.
The words Paul uses, “storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life,” are profoundly Kingdom. Clearly, it reveals that through our good works—responsibly using our privileges for a better world—we are partnering with Jesus in advancing His Kingdom.
If you haven’t yet explored the Message of Jesus series, I recommend starting there first, as it provides the platform for all we cover on this website.
Otherwise, I recommend the below articles next.
The Message of Jesus governs how we relate to all people.
Jesus smashed the bounds of family, communal and national love, modelling a boundless love that includes everyone: our neighbour, the stranger and our enemy.
The Message of Jesus governs how we relate to government.
As citizens of a higher domain, we remain grounded in this domain through humility and servanthood, living lives of unimpeachable integrity.