Who are your friends?

How are you going to live as a cross-cultural Christian worker, or missionary if you like. Missionary lifestyle can refer to what sort of house or area you will live in; the people you work with; the amount of time you work or about any other lifestyle issue you care to mention.

You wont find this in any commentary or theology book but of all the insults hurled at Jesus during his earthly life, “friend of sinners” I reckon was his favourite. Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5 all show the scandal that Jesus caused by eating and drinking with “tax collectors and sinners”. He was not at all worried about his own reputation but was more interested in being inclusive. There is no indication that any of these reprobates Jesus was associating with was interested in his message; he was interested in them.

In Luke 7, Jesus allows a woman who had led an immoral life to touch him. The host, Simon the Pharisee thinks, “how can this man be a prophet, letting a sinner touch him”. Jesus accepted this woman in all her sin and confusion. On the other end of the economic scale, Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and declared that he had come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Tax collectors were dishonest, collaborators with the Romans and generally all round bad guys. Jesus is not interested in what people thought of him but was interested to seek out the lost.

I remember being at a party celebrating the wedding of a friend who works with drug users in Latin America. They had invited a lot of folk from the shanty town and had asked them not to get drunk or do drugs that night as there would be kids there from the church. I was sitting between a local drug dealer and another user. I said to one of them that I felt like Jesus. She looked at me weirdly–well so would you if somebody said something like that.This kicked off a conversation about how Jesus spent more time with the outcasts than the supposed “righteous”.

Jesus spent time with those who were unacceptable by the rest of society: the sinners. As a model for our missionary engagement, we can draw our own conclusions.

Secondly, Jesus models a healthy lifestyle in that he engages and withdraws from activity.  He understands that he needs time alone and with his friends. In Mark 1:21ff Jesus casts out a demon and heals Simon’s mother-in-law but after the whole town turns up, Jesus gets up early and withdraws. Jesus knows that constant ministry is unsustainable. He had not even healed all of them (Mark 1:23).

Missionaries can be workaholics. In the first few months or years of ministry we can get into the habit of accepting every preaching or teaching engagement until one day we realise we can’t go on. Regular “quiet days”, regular days off, regular holidays are all important for sustainable long-term ministry and spiritual refreshment. The frequency of missionary burnout is testimony to support the belief that missionaries don’t seem to put this into practice. Follow Jesus in this.

As with the above point, Evangelicals seem to find it difficult to accept Jesus’ needs. This comes from a latent “docetism” (the heresy that said Jesus only seemed to be human); he was actually just God in a body. But Jesus needed sleep, food, water, rest, etc. Jesus also needed to pray. Jesus prayed at times when he needed to make a big decision or when he was in distress. Jesus wasn’t a superhuman he was truly human (Matt 14.13; Luke 5.13).

If prayer–all types of prayer, not just intercession–is not part of your missionary life, then I would review your spirituality. Praise, adoration, confession and intercession demonstrate and then put into practice reliance upon God. Jesus did things in the strength that came from God.

So Jesus demonstrates in his solidarity, his engagement and withdrawal and his prayer a healthy missionary lifestyle.

Tomorrow we will look at how Jesus models ministry.