“Which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and sitting him at the right hand in the heavenly places above every ruler and authority and power and dominion and every name which has been named — not only in this age but also in that which is to come.”
One of the beauties of Paul’s letters is not only is he a systematic thinker who lays out the depths of theology before the church of Jesus Christ, but also that he occasionally breaks out into benedictions. It is an ongoing reminder to us that while the Christian faith does have intellectual content, that content of our faith ought always draw us to bask in the awe that we have for our savior. How remarkable and amazing is our God! Truth about Him and praise for Him must never be made separate. As the Sons of Korah wrote:
“Great is Yahweh! Worthy of Praise!
In the city of our God and on his holy mountain!”
(Psalm 48:2, verse 1 in English translations)
Yet, we must not stop here, presuming that this is merely an expression of Paul’s awe for our Savior. For indeed, in praising Christ, he lays out an important principle. The principle is that Jesus is enthroned over all creation. He is not waiting for some future reign as some Christians would suggest, but he already reigns from heaven on high. And he reigns over all things. He certainly reigns over his church, which Paul will bring out in the verses that follow, but he rules over nations and powers and authorities in heaven and earth. He has been exalted on high and before him every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Jesus’ reign over creation is not that of a coming and future King, but it is that of a present and eternal King.
One of the sad things in the world today is that many Christians behave and act as if they are a people without a king. They are waiting as it were, but they see no royal authority in power, only chaos reigning on earth. Many behave, then, as if it did not matter how they lived and many more behave as if this world is a fearful place. My friends, that is not the attitude of the Apostle Paul. No. He sees Christ exalted on his throne and ruling over the world. Indeed, the enemy has sought to usurp power and hold territory that is not his own, but it is our role as the church to attack such ideas and to engage the enemy with the confidence that only comes from the knowledge that our King reigns over all creation — things in heaven and on earth and under the earth. We have nothing to fear in the created order — only Him who has redeemed us from death.
Think about how radically our culture would change if the church adopted the mindset of the Apostle Paul rather than the mindset of the defeatists. At times, I have been accused of being a “triumphalist” in my theology. To that, I say, “so be it,” for indeed, if I am triumphalistic, then the Apostle Paul is even mores. Christ reigns over all creation and he has commissioned us to take dominion of all creation through the Gospel — by making disciples of all nations. Shall we take dominion over the creation in the name of our glorious King or shall we return to our petty squabbles, fighting to preserve our own little insignificant places on the rock we call earth? What will it be?
At this stage in my life, I have pretty much worked under just about every form of remuneration that is out there. As with many, I began work collecting an hourly wage. As a manager for Domino’s Pizza, I was paid salary plus commission, where my salary was modest, but I was able to earn an additional commission based on the profitability of the store I operated. When I was a mechanic’s apprentice, I was paid by “flat-rate,” which meant every job was assigned to it an “hourly value” and thus, if I was efficient, I could be paid for 60 hours of work in a 40 hour week. Then again, I had to be present for those 40 hours whether there was work or not. When I installed carpet, I was paid piece-rate, which meant that I was paid for every square yard of carpet I installed, no matter how much time it took, and, when the work was done, I went home. Then, as a teacher and a pastor, I have been paid a salary. About the only way I have not been paid has been on straight-commission.
The reality is that most of us don’t have a choice in how we get paid. If we want to go to work for so-in-so company, we will accept whatever arrangement of payment that they offer. At the same time, I must be forthright that the way I have most preferred to be paid has been via piece-rate. In this model, you get paid for what you produce, so there is a clear correlation between the paycheck and the work you have done. Also, if you happen to have extra expenses or financial needs, you can simply do more work (assuming that it is available) to earn the extra pay. It is the closest thing you will get to being self-employed…and in fact, for much of the time I spent being paid piece-rate, I was self-employed.
My least favorite forms of payment have either been salary or hourly wages. The benefit, of course, with salary is that you always know what your paycheck will be — week in and week out — and thus, it is easy to budget. The drawback is that your time is never truly your own and you never really have the opportunity to make extra money by working more hours (unless you go to work for someone else!). It is assumed that busy weeks and slow weeks will balance themselves out and thus there is no “over-time” for busy weeks and there are no lean weeks.
My problem with hourly wages is that it causes me to watch the clock. I recognize that this is my own weakness, but I have known many who have shared similar experiences. Yes, you do get paid over-time for additional work done and thus there are avenues to make more money when you need it in the family budget (assuming there is work to justify it), but when it is slow, especially, my attention is regularly drawn to wondering, “what time is it?” or “how much longer before I can go home.” And, frankly, I don’t like thinking like that. We should thrive in the work we do and we should view it as a God-given task by which we are commissioned to build Christ’s Kingdom. And, it’s on this aspect of the hourly wage that I want to build my analogy.
It is my fear that too many Christians have become “clock-watchers,” just biding their time until Jesus comes again. If you have spent any time reading these missives, you know that one of my complaints about the “pop-theology” of our culture is that people have a defeatist attitude and assume that the only thing that will right the wrongs of this world is the return of Jesus and the best we can hope to do is to hold onto our faith and survive until that day. People are essentially “watching the clock,” waiting for Jesus’ return, so they can go home and be done the work that makes them miserable.
Yet, Jesus says that we are to “engage in business until I come” (Luke 19:13). The King James, more famously, translates this phrase as “occupy until I come,” emphasizing the Dominion Mandate that is continued in the Great Commission. In fact, repeatedly in Jesus’ parables, the faithful servant is described as working to build the Kingdom while the lazy and wicked servant is simply biding his time. The thing is, we are not supposed to just watch the clock or bide our time; we are called to work, to do business, to take dominion of the world by making disciples of the nations.
One of the devastating effects of the Evangelical sub-culture which has retreated from society is that the world is not being subdued and the strongholds of hell are growing rather than being torn down. Every thought is not being taken captive and the fools, who reject the knowledge of God, are rising to power. It is not our job to simply “survive with our faith in tact” until Jesus comes again to defeat his enemies, it is our job to destroy those strongholds with the weapons of our warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). Do we not believe that we will be given victory in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)? Do we not believe that our faith is the victory that has overcome the world (1 John 5:4)? Do we not believe that Jesus has disarmed the rulers and powers of this world so we may triumph over them in faith (Colossians 2:15)?
Where is the triumphant faith that turned the world upside down in the first centuries AD? Where is the bold and victorious faith that reshaped the mind and worship of Europe and then the world during the Reformation? Yes, it remains present in segments, but so much of the church has fallen into the trap of seeking an hourly wage and nothing more. Instead of living bold and triumphant, transforming the culture, too much of the church is subsistence-living, seeking entertainment that dulls the senses of one’s faith. How long will the Lord allow his church to sleep and what will he say to her when he stands in judgment and she returns but one “talent” of faith that she has kept hidden underground?
“Manasseh did not dispossess the House of Shean and its villages, or Tanak and its villages, or those who dwell in Dor and its villages, or those who dwell in Yibleam and its villages, or those who dwell in Megiddo and its villages. In this way, the Canaanites were prepared to remain in that land. And it came to pass that when Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor for they did not disposes them completely. And Ephraim did not disposes the Canaanites who dwelt in Gazer, so the Canaanites were in their midst in Gazer. Zebulon did not disposes those who dwelt in Qitron or those who dwelt in Nahalol. And thus the Canaanites dwelled in their midst but were put to faced labor. Asher did not disposes those who dwelt in Acco or Tsiydon — or of Achlab, Akzib, Chelbah, Aphiyq, and Rechob. Thus the Asherites dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land for they did not dispossess them.”
The pattern is clear. The Israelites were commanded to remove the Canaanites from the land. The Israelites were unsuccessful in doing so and thus we see this repeated chorus of Canaanites dwelling in the midst of God’s people. The author of Judges will later on explain to us the reason behind these defeats, but for now we focus on the Israelites’ repeated failure to complete the task that had been set before them.
As I reflect on these words, it strikes me that things haven’t changed very much in our world today. We try and share the Gospel in our communities, but in God’s design, we still remain with Canaanites in our midst. On one level, it is easy to point out that we as a church haven’t always been zealous at the work of taking dominion of our world and thus have fallen short of the task. We have become distracted, focusing on entertainment rather than focusing on than on the task at hand. We have become timid, fearing rejection from our friends and neighbors. We have become interested in popularity, caring that people like us more than caring that people respect us for communicating Truth with love. And we have become selfish, focusing on our wants rather than on the call to be salt and light to the world.
The failures of these Israelite tribes brought grief and hardship into their lives given the very presence of idols and sin in their midst. In the same way, we experience hardships because the the idols that we tolerate in our own land. The answer in our response, though, is not to pull back into our own isolated and sheltered communities — but to engage the world around us with the Truth of God’s word and with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we seek to do so we will indeed meet a great deal of resistance — sin entrenches itself in a community in which it is a part. At the same time, the opposition cannot stand against the might of our God. So why draw back and recoil in fear and worry about pressing the world regarding truth? Who can stand against the might of our God? None.