Brothers and Friends
Even though it is several years since I left the ministry for which I am best known, teaching theology, I am only just beginning to understand God’s deeper reasons for calling me out. Regular readers will have noticed a marked shift in the style of my writings this year; they are not only shorter but, according to feedback, “more personal and human”. It was however only a recent conversation with a seasoned pastor that imparted a deeper insight into what God is doing to ‘ME’ that has led to my move away from my regularly theological style. This brother suggested that I was no longer treating my readers as students, but as friends. I was a bit embarrassed by his comment at first, but quickly embraced its truth. I could sense that for ‘ME’ to treat others as students meant to occupy a place over them by possessing some greater knowledge, spirituality, and experience than they have. This style of relating has been undergoing not only a significant personal shift but is opening up a very different approach to the discipling of others.
Above and Below
God is increasingly viewed by Australians as a “higher power” that somehow exists above the level of their day to day concerns. If there is a Creator who once held a face-to-face conversation with our ancestors he has long since retreated to his place in “heaven” (cf. Gen 3:8ff; Ps 115:16; Hos 5:15). With this sort of worldview the notion that such (an alleged) divine being has the right to speak authoritatively to ‘ME’ about reordering my life is simply offensive to more and more average Aussies. The picture of a God who commands us to hand our rights over to him comes across to most contemporary people like the bullies of our childhood experiences. The mainstream Western Church seems almost totally unable to deal with these dilemmas.
In order to avoid giving offence to “seekers” most are afraid to challenge their congregations to embrace the sort of radical discipleship that Jesus commanded. Where voices are raised that authoritatively call for repentance they tend to suffer from a problem that often plagued my own public ministry. Whereas I often stood in partnership with the Word against sinners, I should have stood with wrong doers and let the Word of God confront and offend both ‘ME’ and them together. To confront without taking on a controlling attitude is a calling so difficult that it could only ever be achieved by God’s own dwelling amongst us in the person of Jesus (Matthew 1:23; John 1:14).
God with Us
As God’s Son, Jesus knew himself to be “above all” and to possess pre-eminence in all things (John 3:31; Col 1:18). With complete confidence in his Father he never desired an elevated station in this world, but knew that he must be exalted at the cost of his own life. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:32-33). It is on the cross that Jesus is enthroned as King over rebellious humanity. Jesus stands over us in this way not to put us down, but to release us through a royal decree of final authority (Matt 27:37; Ps 2:1-2; Acts 4:25-28). His conclusive decree is, ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:34). That the humble King stands over us to forgive us is the supreme attractiveness of the sovereignty of Christ, a ruling presence that will reach its climax amongst his people through his ascension. “Jesus said …“go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17; cf. Matt 28:10). The revelation that the one who suffered and died for us is now “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5) radically reorients our thinking about all our relationships by placing us together on the same level.
Brothers and friends
Having ascended into heaven Jesus comes into our midst unashamedly calling us his “brothers” (Heb 2:11-12). His glorified presence is the key to the fulfilment of his own command, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Matt 23:8). Whether it is in the theology lecture or the church, there can only be one (en)titled person in the middle of us, it is Jesus! In his presence “Dr.” and “Pastor” count for nothing. Or, as The Message version puts it; “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates.” Ranks, privileges and entitlements are all swept aside in the creation of a new communion centred and sharing in the flesh and blood humanity of our common brotherhood in the exalted Christ (Hebrews 2:14-15). Those who are “over us” are only so “in the Lord” (1 Thess 5:12).The authentic ‘ME’ now finds its true identity solely in Jesus. The consequences of this revelation are enormous.
A new and amazing move of God is coming centred on a clear awareness of the humanity of Christ given for us all (Mark 10:32). The spiritual direction guiding this awakening will be communion with Jesus as a brother and friend in the power of the Spirit of God (John 15:15). In this way a new authority will be manifested through the Church, (Mark 1:27), not a top down sort of power dynamic founded on greater knowledge, spirituality, and experience, but the humble authority of Jesus’ own victorious human life, the authority of our older brother (Rom 8:29). Jesus will be experienced as someone communicating at our level and his humble presence shall dissolve the image of the divine bully that Aussies hate so much. This will be the arena for a far more effective form of discipleship than we have ever seen before.
There are vast differences in terms of ministry gifts, experience, and spiritual maturity amongst the people of God, but none of these need define who we are, none of them give a value to ‘ME’ greater or lesser than my brothers and friends (Luke 22:24-27; Heb 2:11). Everything worthwhile about ‘ME’ exists for one purpose, to communicate to others what “the man Christ Jesus” shares with his Father so that we might grow together as one family in love (1 Tim 2:5).
For as long as I can remember I have struggled with what it means to be a human being – so confined, frail, limited and unstable. Paradoxically, as a theologian I was best known for my lectures on the humanity of Jesus, but only since I have left such a “lofty” position have I truly begun to understand that he who has been “exalted above the heavens” is really my flesh and blood brother, and the brother of us all (Heb 2:11-14; 7:26; 12:2). My prayer is that the Lord completes his work in bringing ‘ME’ to accept the limits of my own humanness, and that of us all.
 These terms, like the way they are used in the New Testament, are meant to be gender inclusive.
 In psychology, this two against one approach is called “triangulation”.