Understanding how Christian reality runs counter to the world.
We live in an upside-down world.
Although most of the general population probably would not agree, Christians affirm it wholeheartedly. The Bible, with clarity and certainty, declares this to be true.
“When I am weak,” said the apostle Paul, “then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). In his first letter to the same church, the apostle said that God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong and that He chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1:27).
Throughout Scripture, we see many examples of human thinking being at odds with God’s wisdom. Consider these five areas.
In the eyes of the world, power is a top-to-bottom value. The boss is more important than the employee. The colonel gives orders that are obeyed instantly by the buck private. The slave (and there are slaves, even in the twenty-first century) is subservient to the slightest whim of the master. The Bob Cratchits of the world buckle under the demanding requirements of the Ebenezer Scrooges.
To be on top is to have control. Or so it seems. Jesus said, “The last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). He illustrated this by telling the story of an ill, hungry beggar who scavenged for scraps of food that fell from a rich man’s table. After both men died, the beggar found himself in Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man was in Hades, begging for just a drop of water on his parched tongue (Luke 16:19-31).
In the long run, the beggar turned out to be blessed, while the rich man suffered in torment.
As far as money is concerned, especially for those who exist at a poverty level or lower, it seems that the person who has the most is always at an advantage. But that’s not how it works in the economy of the kingdom. Often, less is more.
On one occasion, Jesus and His disciples were observing worshippers placing gifts in the temple treasury. Many people put in large donations. “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents” (Mark 12:41, 42).
Jesus said to His followers, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others” (v. 43). Her gift, though tiny, was worth more than the huge gifts because the widow gave out of poverty, with love.
An unknown poet has written:
But Heaven’s arithmetic mystifies man
When the answer is faith
and a prayer.
To get you must give, and
to add you divide,
And to multiply things
you must share.
King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
This “everyman” Solomon describes is not a blithering fool, casting all caution to the wind and choosing to live without thinking or concern for the future. This is a reasonable individual who makes what they consider to be solid, sane choices that will lead to happiness on earth and to eternal life.
But something is wrong with the equation. This person believes their generosity to the poor, the choice to tell the truth on most occasions, regular attendance at church, and an equal opportunity view of others are right choices that will bring happiness now and later a place in the kingdom.
But Solomon’s conclusion is that all of this “good” activity leads to death. The missing ingredient for this individual is a recognition that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and need a Savior. That Savior is Jesus Christ, of whom it is written, “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The truth is that we are not saved because we’re good. Rather, we’re good because we’re saved.
Value of life
Nothing is more valuable to human beings than life. Americans spend millions of dollars every year on medical care in order to extend the length of their lives. But Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
Prior to this, the Master explained His statement: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (v. 24).
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is perhaps the best known example of a sacrificial life bearing fruit. But Christian literature is replete with stories of individuals who have died to self and reaped rich rewards for the kingdom — some tenfold, some an hundredfold.
If the topsy-turveyness of the world is evident in such things as power, economics, ethics, and life values, it is even more so in the realm of reality itself.
The apostle Paul made an astounding statement in his second letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:18).
We’re used to trusting in things we can see and touch.
We sit in a chair because, from sight and feel, we know it will support us.
We look at the ocean, and we assume it always will be there.
We stand in awe of towering mountains and sense that nothing ever could destroy them.
We view ancient buildings, hundreds of years old, and never consider that one day they will collapse.
But Paul tells us that, because we can see these things, they are temporary.
It is the unseen — faith, trust, love, and the Almighty himself — that are real and will last for eternity.
The apostle Peter revealed that at the end times “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). But the permanent things, the unseen things, will remain.
Within a few years of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Paul and Silas set out as evangelists. In Thessalonica, things went well for three weeks. Then a group of envious men and their followers went to the city authorities complaining that the Christians had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, KJV) and were now disrupting the peace of their city.
It was true. Christians did turn the world upside down in the first century. Thank God, the situation has not changed. God’s people today live with a different reality than the world. We have discovered that God’s way, though it may seem contrary to human reason, always is best.