Also Read: 1 Samuel 17:1-54
The Christian life is not an action movie. But neither is any part of real life. In an action movie the hero might be suddenly awakened to discover that his life is in danger and only through amazing luck and daring fight moves does he manage to get dressed, find his weapon, outrun the bad guy, and find a fast car while still managing to get breakfast. He punctuates his scrambled eggs with a high speed chase through crowded city streets and after a flight to Hong-Kong finds himself staring the super villain in the eyes in a fight to the finish dual that involves amazing choreography, three handguns, an ancient vase and a host of witty puns and wry grins. When the smoke clears he’s back in his apartment straightening up his bow-tie as he prepares for a dinner party.
Based on some of the missionary letters I’ve seen, we might think that every day on the mission field is the way the Christian life is meant to be lived – they’re talking to natives, hacking through the jungles with machete’s, or planting churches in a new village every week with at least a thousand new converts on their way to becoming pastors. Look at Christian advertising and you get questions like, “Is your church on the road to impact?” Another one shouts, “We partner with you till your project is a success!” Another one pictures a group of smiling children running because they’ve been blessed by Jesus. That one guarantees revival, the other one promises to answer all your questions, grow your church, grant your dreams, and wash away all of your problems for the base price of $299 depending on your congregational size.
Based on some of the book titles out there we’re supposed to be Radical, Happy, happy happy, or telling people about our dreams and out of body experiences. Half the titles out there sound like someone in the marketing department opened up their thesaurus to “speed freak”, “cool”, or “special” and sought out every manipulative word they could find.
But amid all of the jargon it’s gotten me wondering this: What is the portrait of the normal Christian life in Scripture, as opposed to the action movie version of Christianity that is sold in stores today? I think the answer might leave you surprised, relieved, and more than a little challenged.
As I contemplated what it means to live an average, normal, Christian life – I came first and foremost across this memorized passage in 1 Timothy:
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–4, NASB95)
Above all else, whatever else might be said about the normal Christian life is this: It is a life punctuated by, and consistently enveloped with communication and communion with God. The normal Christian life is a life of prayer. If you are a follower of Christ and yet you are not praying you are a fish out of water and you are destined for gasping misery and powerlessness to live up to or in accordance with any of the other things to which God has called you to do.
Take careful note that whatever else we see in this text it is entirely written in a context of prayer with a particular bent towards the proclamation and ultimate reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m convinced a great many people who claim the name of Christ but who have become overwhelmed with contentment – not in the things of God but in the pursuit of the things of the world – have very little in common with the God they purport to worship. To put it another way, we are so enamored with life as the world defines it for us that we don’t care a frogs eyeball if our neighbors ever encounters The Christ who departed the glory of heaven, embraced unbecoming humility and made himself a servant in order to become obedient to the point of death so that he might by the pouring out of His blood redeem them from the death sentence of the wrath of God at their sinfulness.
But note here that everything from the prayer to the end result of those prayers is wreathed in the gospel of Christ. People being saved through the lives of “normal Christians” is the goal of the normal Christian life. Normal Christians are bent towards the gospel. The gospel is the core of our faith.
Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16–17, NASB95) Normal Christians are not busy actively hiding the gospel under a bushel but will by nature let their lite shine for all to see. We have the truth, we have the message of the means that God will save people who come to him in faith. Normal Christians are so affected by the gospel that they share it. And not only with unbelievers. The gospel focused life is a life that is lived out as well among other Christians in discipleship. The emphasis in the great commission of Matthew 28:19 is ‘as you are going make disciples’. Disciple making is “the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”
In addition to being prayerful and gospel focused we are also called to something that we know very little of in 21st century America. We are addicted to the image of frenetic activity that looks far more like an action movie, but lacks the satisfaction that it is supposed to promise. Normal Christians are undisturbed.
Two couplets, that is to say, two pairs-of-words are used to describe the boundaries of the normal Christian life. The first set is “tranquil and quiet” (NASB) or “Peaceful and quiet” (ESV, NIV). The first one only shows up here, the second one is repeated only in 1 Peter 3:4 with a different emphasis. But take a note that the first one refers to a life that is free of outward disturbance. The second one speaks of a life free from inner turmoil.
Tranquility is that idea of being placid, quiet, composed. Not stirred up, I might prefer the word “unruffled”. What do you mean unruffled? I mean that our steady hope and faith in God permits us to encounter even the chaos of life – and nobody denies that it can be chaotic – but our steady faith in a steadily-faithful God who holds all things in his hands and who orders all of the universe to arrive at the destination of his glory is more than capable of handling the political, social, economic upheaval and we can face the storms of life doing appropriately what we may and must but without freaking out as if our spasms are going to help re-order the world. We see similar terms like “contentment” scattered throughout the scriptures such as Paul saying,
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12–13, NASB95)
Of course quiet is what you think it is. If tranquility is unruffled by the external chaos around us than quiet is the unruffled response to the world. Elsewhere we get synonyms like “temperate” as a measure of godliness and that is just what we’re talking about. Not driven to excesses. That’s what the normal Christian life looks like. I’m not talking about stoicism or cynicism which either ignores the worst and seeks to endure it or which simply expects the worst and therefore isn’t surprised when it invariably comes. Far from that and quite to the contrary, I’m talking about a faith that acknowledges whether sun or storm that God is fully in control and he is determined to exercise his glory in the life of his children. Experiencing Chaos is normal for everyone. Trusting God when chaos strikes is normal for the Christian.
Marked by God
The second couplet is meant to communicate the counterpoint to being undisturbed. Contentment, quiet, stillness – these are words that could just as easily describe a Buddhist or an introverted atheist living in denial. It is not contentment that is great gain, but Godliness with contentment that is great gain. Contentment is only good if it is in the context of godliness. He says that we are to live in both godliness and dignity.
Godliness is a common enough word in the Bible and in particular Timothy, Titus and Peter. It means both devout practice as well as appropriate beliefs about God. This only makes sense. Jesus said you speak out of the overflow of your heart. Whatever a man thinks: so he is. What you believe to be true, effects what you do. These are simple principles. That’s why Paul says in Romans 12, “Be transformed…” how? “By the renewing of your mind.” You learn to think like God and you’ll begin to act according to God – in a word Godly thinking leads to godly behavior.
You know for centuries people didn’t have their own copy of the Bible. So at best they would go to the church and hear God’s word read out loud, or sung, or recited, or chanted, or look at the paintings that detailed the stories of the pages of the gospels. The Sistine chapel is not just a nice painting project, it was supposed to be a visual story bible depicting the epic of creation to culmination.
If Godliness is generally behavior that is derived from thinking the way that God thinks than dignity is the other half of that which defines the appropriate manner of that action. Something dignified is a manner of behavior that is above the ordinary and worthy of special respect. It means being Godly in a way that isn’t “snooty”, “self-aggrandizing”, or “holier-than-thou”. It means that our behavior is not offensive by itself. It means that we live in such a way that we are respectable persons. If anyone ever gets offended by us, it must only be because we pursue Jesus, not because we are offensive. Normal Christians are Prayerful, Gospel focused, Undisturbed, Marked by God, and they are servants according to their abilities.
Serving according to your Gifts
Consistently throughout scripture you have saints who are busy. I mean they all do things. Noah built a boat. Moses delivered a nation. David built a kingdom. Solomon built a temple. The prophets all preached these great sermons that leveled kingdoms and elevated the expectation of the coming Christ. Mary had a baby, John the Baptist prepared the way. The apostles and the early Christians spread the church all over the world! Peter preached sermons. Paul, Luke, John, and Peter all wrote almost the whole New Testament! But then there are other people like Dorcas in Acts 9:36ff who made clothes. Others sold property to feed the Brethren. Still others sent money to Paul, unnamed thousands preached, baptized, prayed, and gave. Everybody didn’t do the same thing. But everybody did something. And they all did what they did according to where God placed them, and according to what God equipped them to do.
Peter says it best in 1 Peter 4:1-11. (Read, especially 10-11) Whatever gifts you’ve been given…employ them to serve the church. If God has called you to give, then you give. If God has enabled you to go, then you go. If God has equipped you to work the computers, the soundboard, or the piano, than go ahead and push the buttons and keys for Christ. If God has equipped you to build temples than build them, And if God has called you to wash dishes than wash them for the glory of Christ.
Some people, and some of you, might think that what you have and what you do is unimportant – but your gifts are only worthless if you’re not using them to serve God. Is God really calling you to a shout out loud, rambunctious life filled with one exciting moment after another? Or does God desire something different? Is the Hollywood picture of the fast paced life always brimming with excitement really the portrait that God gives of our preferred life?
Even the Apostle Paul’s life, which we see in scripture as one of endless expansion and preaching wasn’t a James bond thriller with a new adventure behind every door. The major portions of the apostle’s life are recorded for us in the silences of scripture. He went to Corinth and stayed there a year and ½. He went to Ephesus and he preached there for Two years. He was imprisoned in Rome and spent two years under house arrest. What did he do every day? He did normal Christianity, using the gifts that God had given him.
Not a superhero, but not lounging in passivity either.
Everybody isn’t a superhero, but that doesn’t give us the excuse to lounge about in passivity either. Scattered throughout the scripture we can see it. A Shepherd boy kills Goliath. A carpenter teaches God’s son how to walk. A farmer of figs crosses boarders and preaches to kings. God uses normal people to accomplish great ends. Because it’s not about you being a super hero, it’s about God.
Normal Christians are Prayerful, Gospel focused, Undisturbed, Marked by God, and they are Servants according to their abilities.
Don’t stress out that you’re not like someone else, just go be normal for Jesus. Because it is for Christ alone that we live and die. By faithfully living that Christ centered life, God can use you to spread his gospel.