The Culture of the Kingdom of God
Let’s say there were two people and one of them always spoke to the other and called him “Older Brother Paul.” But whenever he had dealings with Paul, he didn’t pay much attention to Paul. He was a little bit rude, a little harsh, and ignored him. And then suppose there is another person who doesn’t say those words, “Older Brother Paul” but he loves Paul from the heart. He listens to him and honors him. He wants to know what Paul thinks, and he honors Paul by trying to incorporate what he thinks into his life. Which one of those people is showing respect to Paul, the first person or the second?
I think it’s the second one too. God says, “Let’s not just love with words, but let’s love in action and in truth” (1John 3:18). So, that’s the kind of respect that Paul would appreciate, but also that would honor God.
It raises the point about culture again. This is just one cultural thing and you’ll likely stumble across many, many others when you really decide to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. It’s going to bump up against your culture and my culture. It bumps against every culture in the world, because Christianity is supra-cultural. It’s above every culture. Again, you just have to decide.
You should hear about some of the things they do in the mountains of South America and the villages of Africa. What they are doing is “cultural” to them and in their minds they think what they are doing is a part of Christianity. But their practices are, in fact, very, very unbiblical and very wrong and immoral. But in their minds they think, “This is our culture!”
Well, the culture of the Kingdom of God messes with our culture. There are times when you have to set aside some things, even seemingly innocent things, because God’s culture has to take precedence over man’s culture. There are many things in man’s culture that are at odds with what God wants.
“Conforming to the patterns of the world” is not mentioned as a good thing in Romans 12. It is mentioned as the thing which cuts us off from the mind of God. “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. Stop conforming to the cultures of this world. Be renewed in your mind and then you’ll know the good, perfect, and pleasing will of God.” Our ability to have intimacy with God is tied to our refusal to be bound by the culture of man.
In Brazil, the culture of dress is very immodest. Should we then ignore immodesty because it’s part of their culture? Or does God have a standard of modesty that exceeds any man’s culture? Why do we even care what man says? If God says, “Be modest,” we should be modest. That doesn’t mean everybody should wear head-to-toe robes or anything like that. But something that reveals flesh is very questionable. And those are things we need to talk about.
No matter what the world’s culture says, we better try to resolve the things that God says about His culture. It’s got to be okay with us, even if God’s culture violates the things in a man’s culture. “Don’t conform to the cultures and the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Think like God thinks, instead of like man thinks, and then you’ll know the good, perfect and pleasing will of God.
This use of titles won’t be the smallest or only item that we need to reconsider about our culture. Even if it seems harmless or innocent, there are many things we’ll have to reconsider.
Now, Paul, I’ve just met you. Would you say I’ve disrespected you in any way today?
That’s not my heart, so if I have, I will repent in front of everyone here.
Well, actually, I just want to be called by my real name, Paul. But since I am the oldest here in the group, they often call me Brother Paul or Grandpa.
Sure. In every country we’ve ever been in, people want to use titles. They defend their right tooth-and-nail to use titles even though the Bible doesn’t support that. It’s not just in your country here, it’s everywhere. The real issue is, as was said, the issue of the heart.
If I’m disrespectful to any brother, young or old, and especially old, I need to repent. But the words that come out of my mouth are not the issue that determines respect. Respect is determined by the issues of the heart and the manner of life. Respect comes in the manner of speaking and is shown with the eyes and the ears. It’s the heart and the mind that issue forth respect, not the title.
A lot of people make fun of and are constantly insulting President Bush. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with President Bush. In fact, I can soundly say that there are issues that aren’t very Christian, even though he claims to be a Christian. Ok, fine. It is not the title of “President” that makes me respect him. I have to decide to respect him because he’s in a position of authority. Do you see? There are people all over the United States who call him “President Bush,” but they insult him behind his back all the time. They’re disrespectful. They use a title of respect, but their hearts don’t respect him at all.
So in the Church, all these title things are just an encumbrance. They get in the way and divide and separate. How old is the Jesus that lives inside of you, Paul? He is the Ancient of Days, right?
How old is the Jesus that lives inside of a fourteen-year old, if he’s truly given his life to Jesus? Ancient of Days, right? Wow! A grandpa is the same age as a fourteen-year old. If he’s defined by Jesus, they’re exactly the same age.
Now, again, I’m not saying there’s not a place for respecting. In the Bible, Paul said, “These brothers in this family, they were in Christ before I was. So show them respect.” There is no doubt about respect, but he didn’t say, “Call them by a title because they were in Christ before I was.” He said to show them respect because they were in Christ before I was. That’s our objective is to be respectful and honor one another. The titles actually get in the way of an intimate relationship. They don’t help, they actually harm. Respect is the issue.