Gandhi: Living Christ Without the Name

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is quite possibly the most well-known figure to come out of India in the last century. He was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience, a champion to the poor and disenfranchised, and he sought to bring India out from under the influence of foreign domination. He is the type of patriot that few Americans know what to do with, for he was unwilling to raise arms to defend his countrymen. He protested quietly. He discouraged outward revolution, and he left an indelible mark on the cultural development of the Twentieth Century.

To some, he is among the greatest men who ever lived. To others, he was simply misguided and wrong in in his attempts at nonviolence. To a few, he is the Antichrist. He is praised by the Left. He is ridiculed by the Right, but I think Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps has one of the best summations of Gandhi’s life and legacy:

“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”

Life Magazine: “Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. 40 Years Later.” Time Inc, 2008. Pg 12

A fellow Christian once made the observation that he felt Gandhi was perhaps the most Christ-like individual to walk on the face of the earth while never himself wearing the name of Christ. This was a man who, in his youth, was put off by the Christian missionaries who seemed more interested in converting Indians to British culture than anything, but, when hearing the Sermon on the Mount in Hindu, said to have delighted in the teachings of Christ. What can we learn from this gentle soul?

Forgiveness

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

– “Interview to the Press,” published in Young India (April 1931)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…

– Luke 6:37

Forgiveness is one of the basic foundations of Christianity, but too often we are like Peter in Matthew 18:21, looking for a reason to cut off our forgiveness. This quote by Gandhi was in context of a man judged worthy of the death penalty by his government, someone seen as a traitor. Would we be so kind? Forgiveness does indeed require strength, and Christ’s teachings make it clear that we are to be infinitely forgiving. It is a trait of our Father, and it should be a trait of ours too. It simply takes resolve and strength of character to realize that forgiveness is possible in all cases.

Nonvengeance

In the dictionary of Satyagraha, there is no enemy.

Non-Violence in Peace and War (1948)

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

– Matthew 5:38-39

As a species, we feel we have purpose when our enmity has a target. We say sin is our enemy, but it is so much easier to personify that enemy in human faces, seeking vengeance for their wrongs. That is not the Christian way. Gandhi didn’t even vilify Hitler, instead trying to seek the good qualities in that man hated and feared by so many. If Gandhi could see glimpses of good even in Hitler, why can’t we see the good in a telemarketer; in the President; in a homeless person; in our neighbors? Are we really that hard up for enemies? Do we desire a target for our vengeance so badly? Instead, we should be striving to live peaceably with all, as Paul writes in Romans 12:18.

Nonviolence

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

– Satyagraha Leaflet No. 13

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

– Matthew 26:52

The politicization of Christianity is evident in this: we have allowed faith and violence to intermingle in a way foreign to the New Testament. Yes, God used violence prior to the perfect covenant of His Son, but something changes in the New Testament. Where does Jesus take up arms to resist assailants? Where does Paul hurl stones back at those trying to kill him? Why doesn’t Stephen defend himself against the Scribes and Pharisees? We have only one example of a disciple using violence to defend religious freedoms, and Jesus rebukes him for the action. We could learn much from Gandhi’s attitude toward violence if we wish to be more like Christ.

Humility

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

Harijan (17 February 1940)

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

– I Corinthians 10:12

When we think we are at our strongest, that is when we become most vulnerable. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, pleads for us to keep asking, seeking, knocking. Paul, in Philippians 3:12, claims he is continually trying to improve himself and push forward toward his goal. The most influential of the apostles never felt he could stop growing. Gandhi never felt his search for wisdom was over. Neither should we be content to stagnate in a sense of self-satisfaction on our Christian walk. We should always be testing, self-correcting, and improving ourselves so we may not fall.

Caring for Others

A man of truth must also be a man of care.

An Autobiography (1927)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

– James 1:27

Gandhi and Christ’s followers realized the same thing – to make a difference in the world, we must make a difference to individuals. How often can we read of Jesus or one of His disciples reaching out to an impoverished individual, a widow, a sick person, an outcast? Can the same be said of us? Are we so concerned with saving the world that we forget those closest to us? We often quote the Zen teaching that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The same is true of souls. If we want to make a difference to millions of wandering souls, it begins with those we can reach out to and care for within our reach.

Living the Message

My life is my message.

Mahatma : Life of Gandhi 1869-1948

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

– Colossians 3:17

The end of the matter is this: live your message. You want to spread the word of Christ? Live it – and not only when it is convenient or when it agrees with your politics or your personal preferences. Live the message day in and day out. As Gandhi might say, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” We may speak the words of the gospel, but our actions can drown out the message if they do not agree with those words of truth. If we are Christ’s, we have died to self, and it is He who lives in us. Our conduct should reflect that.

There are many in this world who claim to wear the name of Christ – conservative political leaders, TV personalities, radio talk show hosts – whose actions deny the name they so loudly claim to defend. They sell a gospel of violence, of greed, of hatred, and of anger. Christ was and is none of these things. Instead of letting people like these influence us, I’d encourage us to take a look at this humble man from India, a lawyer who gave up all to hold up the poor; a man who resisted injustice with peace; a man who cared that his words and his actions agreed. Though he never wore the name of Christ, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave us an example of what it means to deny self, pick up a cross, and live selflessly.

A Spiritual Mind

In Philippians, Paul addresses the Christian mindset. Like the Beatitudes of Christ’s sermon on the mount, these words focus on who we should be inside, and these internal attitudes should then affect everything we say, think, and do. Philippians 1:21 initially proclaims that to live is Christ, and Paul feels torn between his desire to join Christ in Heaven and his need to continue helping Christ’s cause in this life. All Paul does is focused on living Christ and drawing closer to a home with Him, and he encourages his fellow Christians to have that same focus. Like him, our single-minded focus must be Heaven and the expectation of our salvation.

In chapter 2, Paul turns his thoughts to having the same mind as Christ. In verses 2-3, he calls on us to have one love and one mind in humility. He calls on us to have a humble and submissive mind. Paul goes on to emphasize that this was the mind Christ had in this life, humbling Himself, obedient even unto death. This Jesus, equal to Father and Spirit in the Trinity and instrument of Creation, submitted Himself to become a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He had a right to resist, to refuse, but He did so willingly. He did so sacrificially. He put on submission and humility, and we should be likewise willing to submit and abase ourselves despite the rights we think we have.

Chapter 3 touches on having a spirit-centered mind. For several verses, Paul lists his own qualities that could allow him to boast among his peers – a Pharisee, a zealot, a Jew’s Jew one might say. He had power, admiration, and respect in his previous life. By verse 8, however, Paul claims to see these physical accomplishments as nothing compared to his relationship with Jesus Christ. The accolades and praises of man mean nothing compared to spiritual victory in Christ.

Finally, in Philippians 4, Paul calls on Christians to have a contented mind. Verse 7 describes a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that comes from a life of prayer and rejoicing in God. Verse 11 encourages contentment, and verse 13 reminds us that our strength comes from Christ. How do we accomplish this? Verses 8-9 tells us to meditate on the true, the honorable, the pure, and the lovely.

Our minds define who we are. As followers of Christ, we should be content, spiritually-minded, and Christ-centered in our hearts and minds. If we can have these qualities in place, then we can have peace and contentment in Christ incomparable to any other peace we can have here in this world, and we can then share that peace with others, continually helping the cause of Christ in this life.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Humility & Peace

There is one vital ingredient if we are to have unity and peace: humility. We desperately need humility in our lives and in our congregations if we are to work for peace, and, if there is one congregation we can point to as needing humility above all else, that is the congregation at Corinth in the New Testament.

Here is a congregation where factions split behind various leaders and figureheads. Some promote celibacy while others live in sexual sin, calling it freedom in Christ. Some abuse the Lord’s Memorial. Those with spiritual gifts seem to vie for prominence and attention during worship, behaving disruptively to gain attention. There are even those who deny the resurrection.

Five times in his first letter to this book, Paul calls for humility: I Corinthians 4:6, chapter 4:18, chapter 4:19, chapter 5:2, and I Corinthians 13 then explains Christian love, a love that is not boastful but humble. The heart of Corinth’s problem is one of pride or arrogance. These are dangers Paul would reinforce with Timothy in I Timothy 3:6 and 6:4 as well as in II Timothy 3:1. Paul obviously sees humility as an essential ingredient in our Christian lives, especially if we are to live peacefully with one another and our God.

Pride and Separation

Pride and arrogance keeps us from our true selves. Proverbs 16:18 warns that pride leads to a fall. Why? Because we blind ourselves to our own limitations. Proverbs 14:16 warns against arrogant recklessness born of overconfidence. Galatians 6:3 tells us we deceive ourselves when we think we are better than we are. In short, we fail to see ourselves the way God sees us, and the way we measure ourselves differs from the way God measures us.

Pride also keeps us from one another. Galatians 6:2 calls on us to bear each other’s burdens. How can I do that if I’m too full of myself? Romans 12:3, after telling us to avoid conformity with this world and encouraging us to live sacrificially, begins an entire passage about service through humility. We should not esteem ourselves above our brethren. Verse 16 calls for harmony, asking us to put others first without conceit. I Peter 5:5 tells us to clothe ourselves in humility, and in Matthew 18:2-4, after the apostles had been arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus calls on His followers to have childlike humility if they would be great in God’s kingdom.

Finally, a lack of humility keeps us away from God. Proverbs 8:13 tells us God hates pride and arrogance. Chapter 21:4 calls haughtiness sin. James 4:10 tells us God lifts up the humble, and I Peter 5:5-6 says much the same thing, reminding us that God resists the proud. Think about the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5; in verse 3, Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, those who have been emptied of self. Once we empty ourselves of pride, we make room for God in our lives.

Conclusion

In Job 1:1, we are told Job was a perfect, upright man, and, in verse 8, God calls Job His servant. Chapter 2:3 repeats this assertion that Job is God’s humble servant, fearing God and turning from evil. Can God say the same about any of us? After chapter upon chapter of Job’s friends tearing him down, we come to Job 31:35 where Job declares His innocence before God. He becomes proud in God’s eyes, and God responds in chapter 38-39, putting Job in his place. Chapter 40:3-5 then records Job’s humbled response. Now, if righteous Job could not be prideful before God, how can we lift ourselves up in arrogance?

In humility, we can see ourselves as God sees us. Humility allows us to serve one another, and it is humility that will draw us nearer to God. As little children, we need to empty ourselves of self-interest and all arrogance, coming to him in meekness and humility so He will draw nearer to us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Faithful Thief

We often study Christ’s crucifixion, its import, its cruelty, its significance. It is seldom, however, that we take the time to consider those two others crucified with Him. Matthew 27:38 tells us these were thieves and political criminals, and Luke, in chapter 32:33 records them being put to death with Christ. We only have one recorded conversation between Jesus and these two, but there is much we can learn from the exchange between Jesus and those put to death with Him.

One of these, in Luke 23:39, turns to Jesus, ordering Him to save Himself and them from their fate (Remember the amount of effort it would take to talk while hanging from a cross). The other rebukes the first speaker, though. The second reminds the first that Jesus is innocent while they are guilty. Then He asks Jesus to remember him before the Father. Matthew tells us that both of these criminals are initially involved in mocking Christ, but we see one of them turn his heart.

Lessons from the Faithful Criminal

In these last moments of Luke 23, one thief exemplifies a few characteristics we should also have if we desire Jesus to say to us, “I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

  • Penitence. In Matthew 27:44 records both criminals mocking Christ, but, in Luke 23:40, he demonstrates a change of heart when he asks his counterpart, “Do you not fear God?” He goes from arrogant mocking to humbly asking for intercession.
  • Standing Up for Jesus. In this environment of mocking and cruelty, this criminal is one voice of compassion for Jesus. Had the two witnessed any of Jesus’ trial? Had they seen the crowds turn on Him? He speaks up on Jesus behalf, even in dire circumstances.
  • Understanding Justice. That humble criminal recognizes that he deserves his fate. He understands that justice cannot save him. He needs mercy.
  • Turning to Jesus. Finally, instead of demanding salvation from Christ, he simply asks for Jesus to remember His soul.

Having the Faith of the Thief

This nameless criminal is an example of faith – the faith we should have in our own service of Christ. He comes to believe in Jesus in a few short hours, and he has faith in Jesus’ power to forgive and deliver Him. He recognizes Jesus’ sovereignty, and he expresses faith in something beyond this life. There is much in that statement: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Because he had a faith the other prisoner did not have, he gains one more thing his counterpart would not have: hope for salvation. In Matthew 27:50-54, we see individuals who realize Christ’s divinity after the cross, but this lone thief becomes faithful before those great events. He stands in contrast to the other criminal and to those surrounding the cross.

At points in our lives, we become like one of these two thieves. We will either go with the crowd, refuse to humble ourselves, be defiant in self-confidence or arrogance, and refuse to turn to Jesus for help. In contrast, we may see our Savior, grow humble, recognize our guilt, stand up for our Lord, and ultimately turn to Him for salvation. Like these thieves, we have a death sentence upon us. Unlike them, we may not know the timeframe of our own lives, but we face the same choice. Which one will you be more like?

lesson by Tim Smelser

All About Jezebel

Jezebel – it’s a name laced with dark and heavy undertones. We don’t name our daughters Jezebel, and, if we do use the name in a sentence, it’s usually used as a derogatory term. I have to admit, though, Jezebel is one of those Bible characters who has always confused me. First of all, she seems disproportionately well-known for the amount of screen time she gets in the Bible. She gets about twenty verses in the entire Bible, not all together, and roughly half of those twenty (ish) verses cover her death. She’s a bit part, yet I bet you could tell me more about Jezebel than, say, King Asa, who gets a few chapters to himself. The other thing is this: her behavior just doesn’t seem to make sense.

A Quick Overview of Jezebel

Let’s take a look at the events of her life (not including her death).

  • I Kings 16:31 – King Ahab of Israel finds a nice girl named Jezebel and marries her. She influences his idolatry. So far so good.
  • I Kings 18:4 – Jezebel is slaughtering prophets. Okay, lady, I get that you like Baal, but why the murder of God’s prophets? Seems a tad extreme.
  • I Kings 19:1-2 – Jezebel learns that Elijah called fire from heaven, defeated the prophets of Baal, had all of the false prophets killed, and restored rain to the kingdom. The logical response? Decree Elijah’s death. I’d think most would back down at this point, but okay.
  • I King’s 21:5-16 – Jezebel learns a guy named Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to Ahab. She launches an overly convoluted plot (the likes of which would make Yzma proud) to ensure Naboth’s death, and she delivers the vineyard to Ahab. Really, read those verses; this plot is complicated.

The more we see of her, the stranger Jezebel seems. Take the final story as an example. She learns of Ahab’s disappointment, and it makes sense that she’d want to get rid of Naboth to get the vineyard. She’s queen, though. She could have sent mercenaries to take care of him. She could have found an excuse to force him from the land. Instead, she writes letters using Ahab’s seal and invites some elders and nobles to honor Naboth at a ceremonial fast. Then, they are to seat some false witnesses by Naboth who will claim the man somehow blasphemed God and the king. (Think about the irony of that for a moment.) The result: Naboth is stoned, and Ahab gets the vineyard.

Jezebel’s Primary Motivator

I stated earlier I have a hard time understanding Jezebel, but her motivations are actually pretty clear in light of the events surrounding Naboth’s vineyard. Jezebel, like so many of us, is solely concerned with what’s best for herself and only herself. Think about it. Of course she wants God’s prophets eliminated; they make her look bad. Of course she wants Elijah murdered after the events of Mount Carmel; his success was a personal affront to her. And Naboth? Jezebel doesn’t want her husband to look weak, for that reflects poorly on her. On the other hand, she doesn’t want to get her own hands dirty, so she launches a complicated plot where, should anything go wrong, any and all blame would fall on Ahab, allowing her to escape consequences unscathed.

She doesn’t do what she does out of love for Ahab, for her country (another motivator often leading to sinful attitudes and activities), or for her gods. Her actions are governed entirely by a love of self and a desire to put self before anything else. Seen in that light, Jezebel’s actions click into a logical pattern.

Sacrificing Self for Christ

We’re most likely familiar with Matthew 16:24-27:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

During the time of Christ, this image of bearing one’s cross would not have elicited thoughts of illness or frustrations. No one would have equated a cross with a difficult child, parent, boss, or teacher. They would not have even seen the cross as a lifetime ailment or disability. To bear a cross was to be walking toward one’s own death. This is not a passage about enduring hardships. It is about self-sacrifice. It is about crucifying self to put God first in our lives.

We live in a world of personal cars, home theater systems, self-serve gas stations, personal shoppers, personal assistants, individual rights, and personal freedoms. We grow offended when we are asked to sacrifice anything, whether that sacrifice be sharing food, helping pay for someone else’s needs, or simply being told we can’t have our way. At times, we are as self-centered as Jezebel, but a Christian should never behave so.

If we are walking in a Christ-like attitude, we put self last. We put others’ needs and interests before our own. We look after their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. We put our self-defined rights in the background and prefer others. We submit our will to God’s, and we humble ourselves in His presence. Think on Christ, on Paul, on Peter, on Stephen – to what extent did these heroes of faith devalue self to glorify God? In God’s eyes who would you rather be, a Stephen or a Jezebel? It all depends on where you place self.

The Reforms of Asa

In I Kings 15 and II Chronicles 15-16, we learn of a king of Judah named Asa. You might remember that the kingdom of Israel split after Solomon because of his idolatry – ten tribes are given to the servant Jeroboam and two tribes to Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Neither Jeroboam or his son Abijah are considered good rulers in God’s eyes, but Asa stands in contrast to his predecessors. He begins a spiritual revolution among his people – one that even draws some from the northern kingdom to worship Jehovah with him.

In I Kings 15:9 and II Chronicles 15:8, Asa begins to reform Jehovah worship in Judah. He repairs the altar and the temple of Solomon. He tears down many of the idols in and around Jerusalem. He banishes the fertility worship of the pagan religions. He even removes his grandmother from public service due to her sinful influence over the people. These are wicked times, but Asa serves as a point of light despite the environment in which he is raised.

Positive Lessons from Asa’s Reform

Asa stands as testament to the difference one person can make. He enters service to a faithless nation where idolatry and immorality had been propagated by his own family. He sets himself to the task, and sets an example to us. His spiritual revolution

  • Reform starts at home. Asa begins by removing the idolatrous influences of his own grandmother. Much like Gideon, his reforms begin at home. He sends a message that he holds himself and his loved ones to the same expectations he would hold the people. In our lives, Jesus has to come first as in Matthew 10:37-39, even if that means correcting our homes first.
  • Reform necessitates morality. I cannot give lip-service to holiness. We have to reform our moral influences to truly reform our spiritual lives. In Matthew 12:43, Jesus uses an example of an evil spirit to encourage us to fill ourselves with good influences after the sinful influences have been purged.
  • Reform necessitates change and repair. Just as Asa repairs the altar and temple, there are some things in our own lives – attitudes, priorities, commitment – that we will have to restore. Luke 13:3-5 emphasizes the need for repentance in reforming ourselves, and Peter reinforces this need in Acts 2:38. We repair our souls through the change of repentance.

Learning from Asa’s Errors

Asa is one of only eight kings described as doing right in Jehovah’s eyes. Unfortunately, we must also learn from the shortcomings of his efforts, so we do not make the same mistakes.

  • What is God’s cannot be used for selfish purposes. I Kings 15:16 begins recording Asa stripping silver and gold from the treasures of God’s house to but off a king allied against him. He takes things devoted to God and gives them over to man. I Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we have been purchased, that we now belong to God.
  • We should trust in God more than self. II Chronicles 16:7-10 records a prophet warning that Asa’s faithlessness will lead to more wars in his time. He reminds Asa of other times God has helped him, but his actions with Ben-hadad lead to an end of peace during his reign. Our plans cannot supersede God’s plans.
  • We need to be able to ask for God’s help. II Chronicles 16:11-12 records Asa being diseased, but he does not call on God for help. He instead relies on the wisdom of man. Peter tells us we can cast all of our care and anxiety on Him in I Peter 5:7, for our God cares about us.

Conclusion

We see the type of effort true spiritual reform takes in the life of Asa – a willingness to start at home, to restore our sense of morality, and to repair the sin in our lives. Reform takes time and effort. Once we reform ourselves, we should be careful to remember that we can always ask for God’s help, trust in Him more than ourselves, and keep ourselves dedicated to His service. Doing this, we can ignite a spiritual revolution in our own lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser