There is no work better than to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a cobbler, or an apostle, all are one; to wash dishes and to preach are all one, as touching the deed, to please God. (William Tyndale 1494 – 1536)
What does it take to please God? How can we go beyond faithful devotion to develop a way of living (discipleship) which embraces the practical values of God’s Kingdom?
A passage I return to time and again is Romans 12. I have long been challenged by the opening words which seem to me to be a blueprint for radical discipleship. As believers living counter culturally, expressing the grace and generosity of Christ, we will see people change and communities transformed. This is a personal call to a committed relationship with God and others:
With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12: 1 -2)
When J B Phillips first translated these verses in “modern” English, he did so for his London congregation at a time when they were facing the worst of the Blitz. Present circumstances were bad enough but no one knew what the future really held: the outcome of World War 2 hung on a knife edge.
These verses point to two very specific issues that are radical in any culture or age. Firstly, there’s a call to personal sacrifice - in other words, we please God when we are prepared to go the extra mile without thought of our comfort, well being, position or (even) life. We are then directly identifying with Jesus who sacrificed himself for the world.
Secondly (and I really like the pithy way that Phillips expresses this in verse 2), the church must retain its distinctiveness if it is to speak effectively into our contemporary world and culture. This demands a change in the way we think (verse 2) as well as in the way we act (verse 1), such that we are moulded (“formed”) by God, not by the environment in which we live nor the cultural norms we experience. Getting our minds on the right track brings an understanding of God’s will and purposes, meaning we are well on our way to joining in with God’s missional call to His church.
This is all well and good – and I’m sure it goes some way to pleasing God. It’s real effectiveness lies, though, in the kind of practical approach it brings to our discipleship as summarised in verse 10 of this chapter:
Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves (NIV)
Grace and Generosity
If you’re looking for radical generosity, then look no further. Instead of being all about me, my needs, my goals – it’s all about others. Instead of putting myself on a pedestal (or putting others down), it’s all about finding the good, discovering the gifts and sharing the joy of others. It’s a conscious desire, which is followed through in active service, of not simply tolerating or just getting along but a passionate intention and goal to look for the best in, and to seek the best for, others.
It’s not some kind of slushy, twee you’re-made-by-god-so-I’ve-got-to-love-you mantra but an approach which seeks the best for others whoever, whatever and wherever they might be. It’s a choice – it doesn’t just happen, we have to commit to it and work at it. And, it doesn’t stop with one act nor with a change of heart at some time in the past: “be” implies that it is something to get on board with now and to keep on doing it.
It’s a pretty tough call – and more so if you consider how the first readers or hearers of these words would have understood what was being asked of them. Sacrifice would be very real to the first Christians living under Roman occupation: the threat of arrest, imprisonment and death as an “entertainment” in the Roman Amphitheatres was an ever present fact of life.
Radical generosity in discipleship complements the radical nature of God’s grace. It is commitment that is worked out, faith that shines out and a life that is poured out for Christ and for others (Philippians 2: 12 – 18). Such radical generosity reflects Tyndale’s sentiments - serving others is not the goal of particular “spiritual” actions but is the Kingdom DNA of every act, however small or seemingly insignificant that serves others in Chist's name.