God has been hammering me recently on how seriously I take the Bible and living it out everyday. I’ve read the Bible dozens of times, but it seems like I read it more to understand it than rather really do it. There are passages that I’ve memorized, but recently realize that I’ve never actually done or taken seriously enough to actually live out. The more I honestly read Scripture for what it says, the more I realize that my life is not in sync with it as much as I would like – not even close. The Bible and Jesus are very intense and radical (not in a bad way, but in a really good way). What saddens me is that I often think I am a good Christian because I am counter-cultural and don’t do the social norm (party, drink, sleep around, etc.) – but what I have fallen into is the American “Christian” culture, which is almost as bad, if not worse. It’s very lukewarm – serve and love God enough to be seen as a good Christian, but don’t do what is uncomfortable or might be a risk for you or your family (or don’t do it that often). Francis Shaffer says that we as a culture have sought personal peace and affluence as our highest goal. Too often we love security and comfort more than God, but we rationalize that we are good Christians because we give and serve more than other people.
I’ve been trying to brush up on my Greek for seminary and so I meet with Sean McDermott once a week to translate from the New Testament. A couple weeks ago we were translating 1 John chapter 3 and a word really jumped out at me. It’s a verse I’ve read plenty of times – even taught on! – but reading it in the Greek made it so much more intense than I’ve ever seen it. It reads, “By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (3:16). That’s already an intense verse in the English – you should give up your life for brothers like Jesus did! But I’ve always dumbed it down to mean: just sacrifice when you can. You know, love others a whole bunch and tell them about Jesus. You don’t really have to give up your life, just serve Him with it. But the word for “life” in the Greek isn’t the typical word that I would expect to find: it’s the word ψυχη [“psuche”]. Literally translated that means “soul.” Jesus didn’t just lay down His physical life, He laid down His soul – and He wants us to do the same – not for Him, but for our brothers.
Just reading the English I would have expected John to have used either βιος [“bios”, physical, material, biological life] or ζωη [“zoe”, which usually refers to eternal life], but he uses ψυχη. He could have easily used either of the other two since he uses ζωη in verse 14 and a derivative of βιος in verse 17. But he deliberately chooses to use ψυχη in this verse, and I think it’s because it makes it more intense and serious. Giving up your soul is a lot more intense than just giving up your physical life, your body. In Homer’s literature the soul was the source of lifeblood, it was where your life came from. People gave up their ψυχη, their soul, when they were killed in battle. You can’t give up part of your soul or lifeblood – it’s an all or nothing thing. So giving up your life isn’t just doing it halfheartedly – it was giving up everything! Once you give it, you can’t take it back. That’s intense. That’s radical. But we’re too busy seeking comfort and security to do something like that. Heaven forbid that you do something that might jeopardize your security, or make you uncomfortable – or even risk the security of your family and the ones you love! Security and comfort become our God instead of Jesus.
Are you willing to give your soul for Jesus, or as John says, for your brother? Am I? That’s a tough question. I find it surprising that John says to lay down your life for your brother, not Himself. Laying down my soul for Jesus might mean martyrdom, but what does it look like to lay down my soul for my brother? John helps us out in the next verse, he says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” The phrase translated here “world’s goods” is the Greek phrase βιον του κοσμου [“life or possessions of the world]. If anyone has life (or what they need in this world), and doesn’t help out brothers in need, then he does not have God’s love and thus is not laying down his soul for his brothers. So how do we lay down our soul for our brothers? Use the life [or possessions needed for life] that God has given us to help those brothers in need. That’s really practical. And there are a ton of brothers and sisters in Christ who we know are in need.
When I read that phrase “if anyone has the world’s goods” it’s really convicting to me. Who has the world’s goods – who has the βιον του κοσμου? I do. We all do. Americans, above all others, have what is needed for “bios,” for life. If you make more than $7,500 you are in the top 15% of the richest people in the world. That means you only have to work less than 10 hours a week at minimum wage in America to be richer than 85% of the world. High school and college students are far more wealthy than the majority of the people in the world – but how much do we give “life” to our brothers in need? Not just giving of our excess, but giving to the point of laying down our soul. College students are not exempt from this simple way to lay down our life for our brothers. I read about a girl in high school who supported 14 children through Compassion. At $40 a month that comes out to about $8,000 a year to provide all that 14 people need. She worked a job during the year and 3 jobs during the summer to provide for them. A lot of people might say that she should save money for college or the future so that she can be financially “secure” and wise with her money, but she is doing something so much better and I wish more of us did the same instead of using that money to provide for our comfort and security. God has blessed us with a lot of money, yet we squander it so often on fast food, movies, clothes, and other things that we don’t even need. Really, stop and think about how much money you spend on things you don’t need. It’s disturbing when I do it – and I’d typically consider myself poor.
I’m reminded of a line that haunts me from Schindler’s List, a movie where a wealthy man uses his riches to save Jews. At the end of his life he starts crying and saying “I could have done so much more.” That’s a powerful line. I can’t imagine at the end of my life thinking, “I just wish I’d eaten out more.” Or, “Why didn’t I get that Corvette I always wanted?” Or, “If only I’d saved up for retirement earlier.” But it would haunt me to know that I could have done so much more but I wasn’t willing to give up my comfort or security for a brother in need. Do you realize how much we’d have to give up before we gave up all that we really need? Most of us aren’t even close to giving up our βιον του κοσμου, the things we need for our physical life, much less our soul. I’m sick of following the idols our Christian culture has made. The life Jesus calls us to on this earth is anything but comfortable and secure according to anyone’s standards (why would the Holy Spirit be called “the Comforter” if we already are comfortable?). I want to take the Bible at its word and actually do it. I know that means radically changing the way I live and think, and I’m overwhelmed by the thought of that, but I’ve got to start somewhere. A practical way God has given me to do that is by sponsoring a child through Compassion, not in place of giving to the church consistently or giving to other ministries, but on top of it. His name is Julian Blanco and he is an 8-year-old boy who lives in Columbia. It only costs $40 a month to provide him with all he needs, including teaching about Jesus. I can’t imagine regretting a choice to give up that little to provide so much for this young boy. How could I say I love God and not provide for more like him when God has given me the means? I don’t make much money, but I pray that God gives me the faith to sponsor more children or provide for more needs in other ways, even at the loss of my comfort and security. I’m not saying Compassion is the only way to provide for needs, but I am saying find a way! Stop rationalizing that you need all the comfort and security that you have and start laying down your life for your brothers. God is my comfort and security, not my money or possessions – and so when He leads, I want to give what little I have with no hesitation.
I pray God would work on us as a people and a church to give of our comfort to supply others’ need, and even be as radical as to give our soul for our brothers’ needs. Do we really take Jesus and the Bible seriously? Do our lives show it? I’m ashamed to answer that question honestly. I don’t want to be anymore.