Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Extreme hyperbole, or innocent phrase?

“If you were the only person on earth, God would have sent Jesus for you”. For some reason, this phrase came to my mind this morning in the shower. How many times have I heard this when someone is trying to “win someone to Christ”?? (I really dislike that “win someone” phrase, but that’s a subject for another posting).

Some thoughts began to resonate within my spirit and mind as I was pondering that statement….”If you were the only person…” First, let me say this: I think I can understand the intention of the person using the phrase. They are most likely trying to communicate to the person that they are talking to how much God loves them, and how important they are to His Kingdom. With this I have no disagreement. God loves humanity, and they all have a part in His Kingdom. My only contention is this (and some may say that I’m being overly critical…maybe, maybe not): what type of message does this send to someone?? Words have power, and carry contextual meaning, to those we are communicating to. What are we communicating by that phrase?

I don’t believe that it’s a necessary hyperbole to use. The person you are talking to is not the only person on the earth (obviously), so why use such extreme hyperbole? I believe that such a phrase is a product of one aspect of our American culture: rugged individualism. The United States was founded on this type of rugged individualism: “pick yourself up by the bootstraps”, “do it on your own”, “it’s all about me”, “with hard work, YOU can do anything”, etc. While I’m not here to say whether that was bad or good, I do believe that this type of thinking has informed some of our language in reference to Christ. By using the phrase “if you were the only person on earth, God would have sent Jesus for you”, are we encouraging an individualistic, selfish journey with Christ? Are we saying, albeit maybe very subtly, “it’s all about you and God only”? I know that in my journey, it was phrases like that, from well meaning brothers and sisters in Christ that led me to a place where I thought that I could be a “Lone Ranger Christian”. Just me, my bible, and God, that’s all I needed.I don’t find that type of language in the Scriptures.

Just to take two examples, let’s look at Mark 12:28-31 and John 17:20-22.

Mark 12:28-31 - One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one” answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (emphasis mine).

John 17:20-22 – “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (emphasis mine)

Those two passages (and there are tons of others) say to me that God’s intention is for the whole world, not just the individual. If I was the only one on earth, how would I love my neighbor, how would I show the world the unity of the body of Christ (something we all need to work on)? What are fruits for? They are for others, not for the bearer of the fruit. The fruit of the spirit that is born out of our lives is for others, not us. Don’t misunderstand me here…alone time with God in prayer, meditation, and spiritual disciplines are key to our growth and spiritual formation. However, there’s a purpose for having “Christ formed in me”, and that is to love others with Christ in me.

So, what am I saying? I think we should examine our use of language when we are having conversations about the Kingdom to others, because as I stated above, words have power and carry meaning to the hearers. If we can start people off in their journey with God with a missional, community mindset, instead of a consumer, individualistic one, I think we are taking a great step forward in advancing His Kingdom.

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