On a daily basis, we are surrounded by many types of people, the majority of which hold different beliefs than us. We are around people from many different backgrounds, who have different ideologies and are members of various religious groups. Maybe we encounter people from religions such as Islam, Mormonism, or Judaism. We may even come in contact with those who identify under “Christendom”—even though they are not true Christians.
It can be a struggle for some of us not to see these people as “the bad guys.” It is hard, when we know that their beliefs oppose ours, to view them as simply other people. On the flip side, it can be hard for some people not to be turned off by these opposing views. It is a fine line to walk. It is the Christian walk. As my parents have often explained it to me: God has called us Christians to be “in the world; not of the world” (cf. John 17:14-16).
God has called us Christians to be "in the world; not of the world" (cf. John 17:14-16).
Some of the best representation of this is found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Both of these men were called out by God to lead the people of Israel in face of opposition. They had to be in the world, but not of it. How can we best represent this today?
The first way is to Just Be There. We're not supposed to stay away from people in the world. In Matthew 9:11, the Pharisees asked Jesus’s disciples why He ate with tax collectors and sinners–people of the world. Jesus answers this in verse 13, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
We must remember that people in the world are just like us, but in Christ we have a family who is there for us. Oftentimes, so many people have no one to offer support. Sometimes we in the church take this family for granted. What do you think it would mean to someone to have a friend who truly behaved as a Christian toward them? By that I mean someone who is always there for them, always caring, not trying to tell them every step of the way that they are wrong and living in sin!
As friends of people of the world, there is a time to talk to them about God, but we need to be patient. Think about it from your perspective: how would you feel if you had a friend who, instead of being there for you, was always telling you how wrong you were? This friend may have good intentions, but you know that they’re wrong and that you are walking the right path. We must be patient with people. Be a true friend, not the constant reminder that their beliefs are not right. If you are simply there for your friends when they need your support, you may well hear them say, “You’re different from everyone else. Thank you.” It is an amazing feeling to get this response. This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said that we must be the light of the world. Being the light in a worldly person’s life causes them to take notice. They may come to realize that you are completely different from anyone else they have met, because you are a Christian, and you are showing them–not telling them–what that means.
Often, we tend to keep away from worldly people because they make us feel uncomfortable due to their different beliefs. But is that truly what a Christian would do? In Exodus 19:6, God said to Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Under the Torah, priests were the bridge between God and the Jewish people. In this scripture, God said to the people of Israel that they were to be a nation of priests, the bridge between the world and God. But, all throughout the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, the Jewish nation practically shut themselves off from the rest of the world. Knowledge of God was not spread throughout the world but confined only to Israel. Since God has commanded Christians to be priests today, is this what we want for the world?
If we are spreading our light to the world and being there for people, they will begin to see the way we treat them, and they may ask, “What makes you the way you are?” If you get asked this question your answer should be because: (1) you care about them for who they are, and most importantly, (2) this is the way your God told you to act. Don’t you think a sincere person would begin thinking if you gave them that answer? You are different from other people because you truly care and the One who told you to be this way is your God.
Both Ezra and Nehemiah were central in the courts and in the presence of rulers of the world. These rulers saw them for who they were: men of God. Set apart. Different. Genuine, caring people. These are all ways we can walk the Christian path and be in the world, but not of it.
However, as we close, we must not lose sight of the fact that these people are still in sin. You need to tread carefully. If you lose sight of this, you may let your guard down and become susceptible to things they may try to teach you. In Nehemiah 4, the people of Israel were careful not to let their guard down. Verse 17 says, “Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.” Treat people with kindness, knowing that they are still in sin. Never let your guard down.
It is hard to be in the world, but not of the world. It is lonely sometimes. Among those we are closest to, it can feel like we are carrying the entire burden. Nehemiah, Ezra, and Jesus did the exact same thing. We have examples in our own Bibles about being the light of the world. But we always have the Lord’s church as our foundation. We need to always remember what Jesus did in loving everyone in the world and imitate Him.
By Branna May