How Shall Christians Be Known?

The mark of a relationship with Christ has taken many forms over the ages, but with one common factor: a self-sacrificing love.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph, son of Jacob, has a fascinating story.  Joseph was favored by his father, despised by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, but eventually rose to a position of prominence under Pharaoh.  In Genesis 41, Pharaoh learns that Joseph has interpreted dreams and calls for his help with Pharaoh’s own distressing series of dreams.  Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as a prophecy of seven years of famine and recommends a plan to get through it.  After this interpretation comes Genesis 41:38, where “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’”  We connect Pharoah’s recognition of God’s Spirit in Joseph to the correct interpretation of dreams, but there is more to it:  Joseph also cared for the people of Egypt and oversaw the plan to survive the famine.

In the book of Acts, after Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to many “rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,[1] Acts 4:13 records that “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  These crowds knew that Peter and John had been with Jesus, that they had a similar spirit.  They had something that comes not from this world’s schools or from what it holds in distinguished, high regard.  Instead, “they were uneducated, common men,” but they carried the mark of Jesus.  They had a connection to an unknown source of boldness and were concerned for the spiritual needs of all people.

In the Psalms, a Psalmist (probably David) wrote in Psalm 119:97-98:

Oh how I love your law!
            It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
            for it is ever with me.”

The Psalmist praises God’s commandment as a source of wisdom better than anything available to his enemies.  By meditating on God’s commandments, the Psalmist is “wiser than my enemies,” because he has a wisdom from an unworldly source.  He carries the mark of Christ, but what is this commandment and what is this wisdom?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says the greatest commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  In other words, any and all commands of God are subordinated to the command to love God and neighbor, including our enemies.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus reiterates the rule, telling His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Therefore, how can all people “find a man…in whom is the Spirit of God?”  Where will the world find astonishing boldness and good news among even “uneducated, common men”?  They will find it in those who have the fruit of the Spirit, which begins with “love,” but also includes “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”[2]

So, does someone have a physical need like those impacted by the famine in Joseph’s day?  Does someone have a spiritual need for hope that only the gospel can provide?  Love provides the answer to both needs, and by love will the world know Christ’s disciples.

Therefore, make Christ known today by loving someone as Christ would.

[1] Acts 4:5
[2] Galatians 5:22-23

Joseph’s Example of Kindness

November 13 is World Kindness Day, which was established in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement.  The idea and importance of kindness is of course, much older, as well as the struggle to find real kindness.

The very first book of the Bible, Genesis, has an interesting tale of kindness in the story of Joseph, son of Jacob.  His is a long and complicated story, but in Genesis chapter 40 we find him jailed on false charges.  In prison with him were two men – a baker and cupbearer – who had also been imprisoned by Pharaoh.  Joseph had been wronged by an unjust ruler, and the other two “committed an offense.”  All three probably felt resentment toward their government because of what might have been arbitrary treatment.

I think underappreciated verses in the story are Genesis 40:6-7, which read:  “When Joseph came to [the baker and cupbearer] in the morning, he saw that they were troubled.  So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today?’” (emphasis mine)

Note the word “today”.  These were men in prison.  You’d expect that “downcast” is their default mode, their everyday mood, but Joseph noticed something different about this day.  Either Joseph: 1) made the prison a place where people aren’t downcast all the time, and/or 2) noticed and cared about when people are more downcast than usual.  He wanted to help the situation right in front of him, even though he had his own share of problems.  I thought about this when watching the movie Shawshank Redemption recently and how Andy Dufresne sought to give others hope, especially in the scene involving the record player.

From this act of kindness, stemming from attention to the world around him and being in tune with God’s character of compassion, Joseph learned about the dreams of these other prisoners, which opened the door to his freedom, and later many other blessings.

Joseph was not seeking escape or success or revenge and was therefore focused on the needs of others.  Even before his time in prison, Joseph had suffered many wrongs, but he was able to still look outward and keep his eyes open for opportunity to express God’s love to those who need it.  God did not owe him any blessing, but Joseph surely was blessed, and later all of Israel shared in it.

In Joseph, we have an example of God’s love in action.  Today, many are stressed and downcast and need Jesus, the great comforter.  Be kind, not because it’s World Kindness Day, but because “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4a).  Seek to bless others and you may find escape for your own downcast spirit.