The Disciples of Christ have always been marked by certain peculiar attitudes to life which differ from what is commonly found in the society around. Because of these differences people called the followers of Christ ‘Christians.’ The Jewish authorities recognized it and the people of the first century understood it. But living among non-disciples and constantly interacting with them can tempt one to follow their ways. So, the Lord Jesus and the Apostles warned the disciples against following the Gentile ways. But, if we still live like the Gentiles, what should we call ourselves? Christian Gentiles!! There are three areas of life where Christian thoughts and the Gentile ways conflict: Life focus, Lifestyle and Religious life.
GENTILE’S LIFE FOCUS
The whole universe was created through Christ and for Christ [Col. 1:16]. That makes it mandatory for all creations to follow His instructions. But for a Gentile who neither understands nor acknowledges this fact, the material world is all that matters. So, he focuses his attention on the physical world. Disciples, on the other hand, acknowledge Christ as their Creator and also the Redeemer who has purchased them by His blood. That doubly motivates them to please Christ through their life and actions.
Once Adam and Eve were debarred from Eden, they had to spend a lot of their time on their basic physical necessities. Food and clothing became the primary concern of their life. As time went on, improving the means of sensual pleasures through cuisine, clothing and culture took prominence in their social and personal lives. Christ came to overturn this trend and make things as it was originally intended.
Adam and Eve had to just stretch out their hands and pluck the fruits that God had provided them. Their effort was limited to gathering what God had supplied. They were totally dependent on God for all their needs. Referring to the basic needs of life, the Lord Jesus told His disciples: “the Gentiles seek after all these things” [Matt. 6:32]. By contrast we disciples receive the necessities of life from God as our first parents did in Eden. God is our Provider. He gives us the means of livelihood as He is concerned about us. Meanwhile we are called on to give first priority to live by the principles of the Kingdom of God and manifesting His character in all our dealings.
A person’s lifestyle is determined by his priorities in life. Paul gives clear instructions concerning the disciples’ lifestyle, contrasting it with that of the Gentiles: “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” [Eph. 4:17]. The Gentiles glory in the temporary glitter and physical and mental pleasure of the world. Show and pomp takes the centre stage in their life. But from God’s perspective all that they do are unprofitable. Paul elaborates this point further: “each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” [1Thess. 4:4-5]. Their lifestyle turns around the “lust of the body, lust of the eyes and the pride of life” unlike the disciples whose primary concern is to live a holy life that pleases their Lord.
The social life of the Gentiles are meant to keep their status intact. They would move around only among the people of their own social status. They think that they would lose their social respect if they associated with the economically and socially ‘lower’ people. For that purpose, elaborate social structures have been made. Apostle John calls it ‘the pride of life.’ The Lord Jesus warned His disciples against this: “if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Matt. 5:47]. Christ made no distinction between the different social strata. He ate with the tax collectors and sinners, the social outcasts and also the religious leaders. For a disciple of Christ, social functions are to be occasions of uplifting the poor and lowly people of the society and not a means of showing off one’s status and dignity [Luke 14:13- 14].
Another characteristic of the Gentile lifestyle is powermongering. When God created Adam and Eve, they were to have dominion over the animal world and not each other. Adam named all the creatures, establishing his authority over them. His wife was to be a suitable companion of equal status, though man was the head of the family. But the situation changed after they sinned. The man’s dominion was extended to the woman as a punishment to her [Gen. 3:16]. Man set his seal on that by naming his wife afresh as he had done to the animals earlier. As time passed, the human society was categorized into races, castes and classes based often on their economic and political power. That is why Christ told His disciples: “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” [Matt. 20:25-26]. This is an indication of the reestablishment of the pre-fall social structure among the disciples.
Talking about the false teachers who are in reality wolves in sheep’s clothing, Apostle Paul says about them, “their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” [Philip. 3:19]. For them, religion was a means of enhancing their wealth, social status and power. This is true about the Gentiles as well. Their primary concern in prayer is their physical needs. Apostle Paul’s prayers for the disciples show the difference. Although he was thoughtful about their physical welfare, His overwhelming concern was their spiritual condition and development.
The Gentiles’ prayer show their attitude to God. Talking about that, the Lord suggests that they think they can force God to act in their favour by the beauty and forcefulness of their language or repeating the same prayer over and over again. The Lord warns the disciples against such an approach: “when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” [Matt. 6:7]. For them, God exists to do their bidding. This is in total contrast to the attitude of a disciple, who lives to do all that the Master tells him to do whatever be the cost he may have to bear for it. Do our prayers also degenerate into the level of the Gentiles sometimes?
POINTS TO PONDER
As Christ’s disciples, our attitudes, goals, life style and approach to God are expected to reflect our special relationship with Him. As in the first century, do the general public perceive that we are different? Or, are we also just doing religion like the Gentiles? Do we really give God the place of honour in all areas of life? If not, the name of God and our Lord Jesus Christ will be blasphemed among the Gentiles [Rom. 2:24]. Let’s make sure that we are Godpleasers.
By Sam N Jacob