Intimate Proximity


“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:13-16


Throughout Jesus’ Sermon on the mount, we are receiving a glimpse into kingdom culture. In other words, those who are transparent enough to admit their insufficiency and therefore dependence on the sufficiency of Christ are to become extensions of the same freely given grace, over-abundantly overflowing mercy and compassion even into the lives of those who have yet to acknowledge their insufficiency and therefore their dependence on God. I chose yet intentionally. As Christians more often than not, we make assumptions about the relational intimacy between our neighbors outside of the church and God, tacitly justifying the lack of relational investment and intimate proximity, choosing to keep ourselves at a distance by allowing our differences to accentuate unwarranted tensions and hostilities, defining our proximity to our neighbors not according to our similarities or the possibility of common ground, but in accordance with our seemingly irreconcilable distinctives.



However, for the local church, the intimate proximity of Jesus primarily seen through the cross shifts our focus and transforms the way we ought to relate and perceive our neighbors outside of the church. We are never to associate with our neighbors as though they are farther away from God than others, but we must always perceive and relate to our neighbors as closer to God than we could ever hope to realize; not according to our posture toward God, but God’s posture toward us.



Living and loving as salt & light is the possibility of habitual compassion that must be exercised the same way we would exercise a physical muscle. Jesus is intentional with his use of words, and is very careful not to say that loving as salt & light is something we will become, or something that only a select few believers can attain. The reality of loving as salt & light is present, it is our reality as believers now, and it is our extension of Jesus kingdom culture for the benefit of the world. To love as salt & light is to pursue our neighbors with a more intimate and relentless devotion, to seek them with a deeper affection.



How do we then attain the possibility of living with this sort of deeper affection? Well, to begin it is helpful to understand all the ways God relates to us by understanding God’s character with greater clarity. If God is universal, this means that he is not a God of one specific context, but is the God of all people and all cultures. Because of God’s universality, God strips every culture of the feeling of superiority; the feeling of a value and dignity more ultimate than other cultures’ perceptions of their own self worth. God is then accessible to all people on the same merciful terms through the cross regardless of religious or cultural affiliation precisely because of God’s universality. Miroslav Volf in his book Exclusion and Embrace puts it brilliantly:



…“the oneness of God requires God’s universality; God’s universality entails human equality; human equality implies equal access by all to the blessings of the one God… Christ, the seed of Abraham, is both the fulfillment of the… promise to Abraham and the end of genealogy as privileged… access to God; faith in Christ replaces birth into a people.”



God in other words, is not a God of prerequisites. In order to get into the best Colleges and Universities, we must come with the correct prerequisites, and if we do not we are not able to join. However, an intimate approach to God is possible precisely because whatever prerequisites were needed to approach him have been fulfilled through the intimate proximity of the cross. Because of this, we as believers find ultimate value not in any identities contingent on our context, but through the only identity that iscontingent free: God’s image. This allows us as believers a faithful flexibility in any context we find ourselves in precisely because we are not defined by the contexts themselves, but by the universality of God. Again, Mirolsav Volf sums it up well:



“Much like Jews and Muslims, Christians can never be first of all Asians or Americans, Coratians, Russians, or Tutsis, and then Christians. At the very core of Christian identity lies an all encompassing change of loyalty, from a given culture with its gods to the God of all culture.”



We can understand this in somewhat modern language. When we speak of the universal image of God we are in other words, speaking of universal human rights based specifically on the bible’s vantage point of our anthropology. This is important, because every culture comes with a specific interpretation of what gives us as human beings our ultimate value, and it is through these perspectives that we are then able to define the purpose of our lives, giving us direction. So, to use Alan Noble’s language in his book You are not your own: Belonging to God in an inhumane World, every culture has an opinion on human anthropology, and every culture therefore gives resources, tools, and coping mechanisms to help us deal with the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with ‘missing’ our cultures ultimate standard of what it means to live with meaning.



Purpose and meaning are fundamental pillars in Paul’s teaching and theology. So many assume that Christian theology is a bunch of knowledge to fill our heads with, but to Paul, Christian theology was the attempt to contextualize the new reasons and loves behind the new motivations of a reconciled heart. Let’s

examine two examples from Paul’s ministry that show us how the primary and most foundational aspects of Christian theology was to make sense of how Jesus’ life and death serve as the new motivations behind our loves.



“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
2 Corinthians 9:8-9



“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self.”
Philemon 1:17-19



In 1936 in Nazi Germany, a German man named August Landmesser was in love with a Jewish woman. August can be seen in a very famous photograph, where he is in a sea of faces all facing the same direction with their right arms rigid in outstretched allegiance to the Fuhrer. There is one man out of the hundreds with his arms crossed across his chest: August Landmesser. Isabel Wilkerson in her book Caste wrote this regarding this photo:



“His personal experience and close connection to the [outcasts in his culture] allowed him to see past the lies and stereotypes so readily embraced by the susceptible members – the majority, sadly… his openness to the humanity of the people who had been deemed beneath him gave him a stake in their well being, their fates tied to his. He could see what his countrymen chose not to see.”



What Paul was saying, and what we see in 1937 with August Landmesser in Nazi Germany, is that our intimate proximity to those around us transforms the way we love and perceive our neighbors. By relating to our neighbors through the cross we are able to dismantle the cultural caricatures that speak dishonestly of our neighbors, and see their identity as not contingent on conext or our disagreements, but on the universal image of God. in this way, Christians loving as salt & light is not only action, but reaction as well.



What Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 9:8-9, was something like this:

We give graciously and mercifully to those who need by what means we are able because Jesus first gave himself compassionately for us, and to us. Through Jesus’ poverty we have become rich, and we are

likewise to abudantly overflow into the lives of our neighbors in the same exact way; no strings attatched, no ultior motives, simply to worship our Father.

What Paul was saying in Philemon was something like this:

Do not relate to Onesimus as a master would relate to his slave, for we have one master through faith, Jesus, who gave himself lovingly and mercifully for us, and to us. Because of this you and Onesimus now share a common identity and hope, being brothers by faith. You cannot therefore, hold supremacy over him any longer. This is not a reality yet to come, it is the hope that is present here and now for us as a culture currently in our midst. Which means I could command you to do what is right, but I much rather appeal to your heart and to the fundamental of Christian theology; the cross.



Joshua Yoder in his book The Politics of Jesus, was attempting to answer the big question every believer struggles with within our culture. What is the fundamental of Christian faith? What is the non-negotiable of our trust in Jesus? It is assumed by many in influential public spaces that if Christians seek to hold authoritative positions in our pluralistic culture, we must be ready to leave our Christian identity behind. It is assumed that christian identity makes us rigid. However, if we don’t want to leave behind the gospel, our identity, what should then motivate our actions, our loves, and define how we serve others? Joshua Yoder said it this way:



“Only at one point, only on one subject – but then consistently, universally – is Jesus our example: in his cross.”



Richard Gomez, FPCH Youth Discipleship Coordinator

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