For the past few days I have been musing about the question “What is God doing in the world?” Ed Stetzer and others (here & here) have been writing about it on the Missional SyncBlog. The background of the question is a concept that is gaining momentum in the church based upon the role of the Church in the world and the role of God. For many years we in the church have thought that the church has a mission in the world. While there is no real problem with this there a little confusion seemed to develop along the way as to who was ultimately responsible for seeing this vision to fruition. Recently, as we began to ponder the work and mission of God, we realised that it is in fact God who is working in the world and we in the church must join him in his mission to the world. So that leads us to the question above as to what exactly God is doing in the world, more particularly, apart from the church? Meaning, what things to we need to look for as we try to let God set the agenda rather than we ourselves setting the agenda? More to the point, is God saving people outside of the church as well?
Then it came to me. Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible can help us understand how God is at work in the world. John 3:16 says, “God loved the world in this way: he sent his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not die but will have life that lasts for ever.”
There seems to be two things that we learn from this verse:
1. God is actively involved in loving the world.
2. God active love of the world is shown to the world in a very specific way: through Jesus.
What are the implications of this?
1. God’s love for the world does not appear to hinge upon the world’s love for him.
2. Jesus is essential to this display and experience of love.
3. The church, as Christ’s body, must then actively showing God’s love to the world.
4. Wherever we go, whomever we meet, whatever we experience, we must remember that God is in love with that place, that person, us. Asking the question, “What/Who is God loving here?” will go a long way towards us understanding his work in the world. The Parable of the Family (Luke 15:11-32)
If we think of an example we can think of the parable of the loving father. God, of course, is the father, and he loves his children regardless of whether they stay with him or not. Much has been made of the fact that “while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.” (v20) For the father, the son has never really left. He knows and waits for the day he will return. The Father also loves his older son saying, “you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours.”
The so-called prodigal son is one of those kids he loves. Who is the prodigal? He represents those who have chosen their own way over God’s way – even those who are the most offensive and hateful in our eyes.
The Father also loves the older son. Who is the older son? The older brother could be described as those who are in the kingdom but who are not appreciative of what the Father’s love means for them and for the world. They enjoy the fact that they are working hard for God but appear to be unwilling to enjoy their relationship with the Father nor to want to share the blessings with others.
The key is that the prodigal son has to return to his father’s house in order to be received by the Father. The irony is that the older son doesn’t really appreciate his own situation: he doesn’t enjoy his position in the household and he doesn’t let anyone else enjoy the goodness of the father’s home either.
So, how does this relate to the church?
First of all it is important to see that God loves everyone, both inside and outside the church. He loves those who give their lives to him. He loves those who have chosen following him as a career-path. He loves those who are seeking to destroy the church. He loves those who haven’t yet heard about him. He loves those who have chosen to live their lives in opposition to him. He loves corrupt politicians. He loves abusive parents. He loves prisoners, criminals, gang members, hockey moms, blue-collar workers, management, employees, unions, scabs, parents, teens, kids, teachers, administrators, predators, stalkers, etc. If God loves these people then we need to join him on his mission of loving them. If I want to know where God is working in the world I just need to find someone whom the world doesn’t love and start loving them.
Of course we can’t equate the love God has for the world with his condoning the practices of the world. Certainly God created everything good, but we, in our sinful state, have turned the good into the bad. We (& the world) must return to God in order to receive the benefit of salvation. God’s promise to us is that creation will not have to groan anymore as he restores everything to its original holiness.
How then does it inform us as to what God’s work is outside the church?
Without Jesus, there is no salvation. The Bible also says that unless we repent, we will not be able to share in the salvation Jesus gives. But, the Bible is also clear that God does love the world. The church as Christ’s body is the representation of God’s love in the world and is tasked with showing that love to the world.