You may recollect that I began this three-part series to explain what I have termed the Stewardculture Triad. The first two parts were:
Stewardculture Triad No. 1: Our response to God
Stewardculture Triad No. 2: Our response to God’s creation
Part three is Stewardculture Triad No. 3: Our response to each other.
I begin with a proviso. In any argument, there is the danger of having a reader assume you mean your argument to be all inclusive. In this case, what I propose is simply a framework about how believers interact with other humans. There can be other positive possibilities on helping us interact. I’m making no claim this is the only way to think about interacting with other humans, it’s a foundation upon which to build.
In order to understand what our appropriate response to each other should be, we have to understand who we are first. I believe that Genesis gives us a clear understanding that we are created beings having both physical and spiritual features and carrying the image of our Creator God and having the purpose of being in a right relationship with Him. Knowing how to respond to each other starts with this foundation.
I want to simplify things significantly when discussing the third triad, our response to each other. Entire scientific disciplines exist relating to the way humans interact with each other. The social sciences have filled volumes that fill entire libraries on this topic. I don’t claim yet another shot at describing human interaction. My hope is to help people understand how to live in this world and not destroy each other or creation in the process. Not only to not destroy, but to regenerate.
From God’s point of view it can be said that there are eternally only two groups of people. That may seem an extreme statement, but from the eternal perspective, I believe the Bible teaches us that there are those of us who are positionally in Christ, and there are those who are not.
This should not be a foreign concept for students of the Bible. Though the books of the Old Testament are written from a largely Jewish context which contributes to a bilateral view of humans, in this case Jew and Gentile. This may seem like an oversimplification, but it’s not. If we could put ourselves in God’s shoes (a terrible anthropomorphism), what does God see when He views humanity? From the eternal perspective, there are only those who have been eventually rescued and redeemed and there are those who will not be; those who choose obedience and those who choose disobedience.
In the eloquence that only C.S. Lewis can provide, he describes this idea. In The Great Divorce, Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”
Human interaction is hard enough without subdividing us into groups and considering each perspective. Having to consider the person’s nationality, gender, sexuality, age, politics, economics, etc., is beyond our ability. We only have to look at the fracturing of society all around the globe to realize we simply cannot interact successfully when considering a multi-perspective person. Seeing humans in any other way outside of the reality of salvation is distracting from our purpose as a species.
To reiterate what our purpose as a species is, I’ll borrow the Westminster Shorter Catechism to help: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” As a writer, I admire the brevity of that statement. Yet, as a writer, I recognize the depth and breadth of meaning inherent in those few words carefully crafted.
The words “chief end” in this catechism leaves room for human endeavors that are lawful and legitimate in the workings of our daily lives. But, at the core of what and who we are as humans is our purpose to be in that right relationship with our Creator and enjoy Him eternally. It will not be joyful in hell, so we must seek the alternative offered freely to us.
Now, with the idea that there are, eternally, two groups of people we can then look to see how we personally respond to these two groups of people. Just as I’ve written earlier about how we are to steward the Earth, it’s a simple thing for me to write that we are to respond to each other just as Christ responded to people. Ultimately, Christ responded to people by obediently giving up His life sacrificially. Therefore, obedient sacrificial living is how we respond to other people regardless of into which group they fall. But, we are called to disciple others and that isn’t just handing them a Bible and saying, “There, now you know how to live.” So, I will point to some more specific ways in which we, as stewards, can respond to others. For responding to fellow Christians, I will point to the passages in Acts that highlight some important things. For responding to those people who choose something else, I will refer to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. These will not be complete expositions of the texts. That ground is better and well covered by those more qualified than I am. I might refer you to two sources for aid in your study of both Matthew and Acts: Matthew Henry’s commentary and Thomas Constable’s commentary.
Right response to Christians
With the gentle reminder that obedient sacrificial living is how we respond to other people, I will begin with my thoughts on our response to other Christians. Upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a normative condition upon salvation, we have a wonderful guide that gives Christians the kind of direction and unity more than any force in the history of mankind. Though the Holy Spirit did fall on people prior to this, it wasn’t a normative and permanent indwelling as we now enjoy. Now, as it was then, the indwelling of the Spirit is for a purpose. As Christ put it, it is for our help.
The book of Acts is a powerful witness to what is possible when people live in unity of the Spirit and how they can have a life of joy and fellowship even when under extreme duress or persecution. This unity can even allow us to love – and sacrificially die for – people we’ve never met.
In the second chapter of Acts, Luke continues his account of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the new life in Christ. There is significant insight in verse 42 where Luke writes “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
This picture of tenacity illustrates that the Christian can live effectively and joyously with dedication in the context of a community of other believers. These communities can take various forms, but the point is that Christ is the center and reason for the community in worship while living in fellowship with each other. For those first Christians, their community was highlighted by the fact that their thinking was aligned. Consider verse 46, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple …” The Apostles teachings were the teaching of Christ and the accounts of the events of Christ’s ministry. Christians should devote themselves to these teachings so we understand the same theology and doctrine. This will foster a single-mindedness about Jesus Christ. In this alignment, we present a consistency to the world who is carefully watching us. A picture is beginning to form here about what a Christian community of people looks like. Our right response to other Christians is to enjoy a deep sharing and fellowship. This fellowship achieves a host of things I’ll address in a moment, but I want to address what some call ecumenism.
These will be difficult words for some to read. However, spiritual fellowship, in all candor, is impossible if people have different ideas about who Jesus Christ is. If Jesus Christ isn’t the ever-eternal equal member of the triune God for you, then a I cannot have true spiritual fellowship with you. I can be your good friend. We can have a deep and meaningful relationship. But, the fellowship I experience with a brother or sister in Christ is beyond that and can only happen with those who understand Christ as I have described Him.
Does this mean I cannot work to build a food shelter or labor together in a community garden with Latter Day Saints? Of course not. But the unity of the Spirit will not be shared between us. That’s not to say we cannot achieve objectives in collaboration. There is no prohibition against achieving things together with people of other theologies. Yet, it would be wise to be aware of the differences between belief systems before venturing into such a collaboration. Why? Two primary reasons. One, so that we are not swayed by non-biblical doctrine. Two, so that it is easier to evangelize them. Though Christ did not shy away from speaking with a Samaritan woman at a watering hole, He did correct her theology. Like Paul in Athens on Mars Hill, his understanding of the Athenians’ beliefs allowed him to find a way to be that angel (messenger) of the Gospel. When we co-labor in the world with the world, it is our chance to proclaim Christ not with information of man’s making, but that which is revealed in God’s word.
Back to what can be achieved in fellowship between redeemed Christians. I won’t go into an explanation of the Greek term here except to highlight that a useful definition of fellowship is deep sharing.
If we have been a born-again Christian for very long, we have felt the Holy Spirit’s work in us and excite us when we are with each other. This is felt profoundly in worship and in labor. A joy that is described in the shorter catechism that is deep in meaning, but short in statement: “to enjoy Him forever.” This joy is lived out in community where fellowship is enhanced because of the bond between believers. A dictionary definition of a community could be something such as, a unified body of people with a common interest. As the Bible teaches us, the fellowship I’m referring to is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
What can be achieved specifically? A demonstrated love of God. If a fellowshipping community has a common interest, it will be the glorification of God. The glorification of God is our motivation to live in the world in a particular way. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the power by which we live in the world in a particular way. This is at the heart of the fellowship of believers.
Others have described the benefits of fellowship among Christians. I won’t provide an exhaustive list, but these are what I think are important from a Stewardculture perspective.
There is the benefit of our labor being both communal and productive. In fellowship, our work is made more effective. Ecclesiastes 4:9 teaches us this point. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.” This is a generality, but we are more productive as believers when we are working in fellowship. What we set out to do, we stand a better chance of success in when done in fellowship. Christ sent apostles out two-by-two for a lot of good reasons. Not the least of which is the strength two workers have together compared to one. Protection, security, care, love, happiness, burden bearing, are a short list of what is enjoyed in fellowship.
Christians laboring in community carries with it accountability, guidance, correction, and learning. These are more at hand in a relationship characterized by fellowship. Look at the biblical description found in Acts 2:46-47, “…and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Who wouldn’t want to live in that context? But, accountability and correction are benefits we should seek. It’s not about our own work, position, and standing.
This leads us to the fact that when we live and labor in fellowship with other Christians, we can break down a self-centric mindset. I believe because of our old-sin nature we operate in a self-centric manner. It takes a strong force of will to not consider oneself first because it’s unconscious. In fact, it’s interesting to note that some of the first words a child learns to use are the singular possessive pronouns.
A common conference trick to help people understand our unconscious perspective is to ask a dozen people to come to the front of the room and form a circle. When given no other instruction, we in the West will almost always form a circle with each person facing inward. Why do we do this? I’m sure there are a complex set of variables that go into this behavior, but one of the key reasons is we are self centric, or in this case, inward facing when we should be outward facing, which is an indication that we are not putting ourselves first.
Going beyond that, consider our private thoughts and behaviors when we encounter another Christian. Everything is a comparison to ourselves. Something that I am guilty of is when I listen to someone relate an anecdote, I immediately chime in with a similar or corollary anecdote about myself. As I have examined that behavior about myself, I believe it is because of my self-centric mindset. I feel an urge, a need, to interject myself into the dialog. No one asks me to, but I do it anyway. My ego seems to crave to be injected into someone else’s thoughts. It’s as if my worth to that person is affected by what I volunteer about myself even when no one has asked. In short, it’s a comparison and we don’t like to come up short.
We see others in comparison to ourselves. We make observations about people’s dress, speech, mannerisms, economic status, appearance, and more, all in relation to ourselves. Our entire frame of personal reference is our own self. This is at the heart of a self-centric mindset. The alternative isn’t considering another person from their point of view. That still is a lacking and misdirecting perspective. The only way we should see each other and ourselves is exactly how God sees us. Only then can we love each other more honestly and completely. How I respond to another Christian is exampled by Christ.
It is when we see each other as God sees us, then we can move beyond the old-sin-nature-based self-centric mindset to a view of others that encourages fellowship, love, and community (unity of the Spirit). Yet, what is most important is that our response to other Christians must glorify God.
In the end, this is a simple filter through which to assess and measure our own personal response to other believers. Does my thought about a Christian glorify God? Do my words to a Christian glorify God? Do my actions with this Christian glorify God?
I’m certainly not saying this filter is exclusive to responding to Christians. It’s a filter through which we should respond to everyone. Yet, if we glorify God by how we respond to other Christians, amazing things transpire in our self, among each other, and in our relationship with our Creator.
As our relationship with the Creator grows in our sanctification, our relationship with His creation can grow as well. Our response to other Christians, and how we live with them, influences how we relate to God’s creation. It must. For other Christians are God’s creation. We have respect for persons that should also impact our respect of place. Remember, God’s instructions to Adam and Noah essentially were calls to stewardship. This godly stewardship is not exclusive to the inanimate things, but applies to each other and especially stewardship of our relationships with other Christians.
If we agree that we are to be good stewards of our relationships with Christians, then we have to know that God expects a positive return from that relationship. Imagine the parable of the talents and replace the currency with people. If God has given us a brotherly relationship with a fellow Christian, do we think that God in not concerned with a return from that Christian relationship? I claim that God certainly expects a return from the relationships Christians have with each other and God will hold us accountable for it.
Right response to others
It’s helpful to study what Christ taught us as He preached from a small mountaintop shortly after He was baptized and after He began calling out of some of His close disciples. The outline of the Sermon on the Mount – especially the Beatitudes – would serve as a good set of guidelines for living in this world where some people have chosen disobedience. That’s not to say that the principles therein aren’t good for living with Christians.
When it comes to the ethics, permaculture practitioners tend to focus on social justice and encourage us all to view each other as the viewed want to be seen. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I may be bold enough to summarize that the ethics of “care of people” and “fair share” has its basis in the idea of equity. However, it doesn’t work in practice.
The failure of man to be able to live benevolently is, to me, an indication that care of people and fair share can’t happen at the societal levels. Humans have not been able to live benevolently among each other since being removed from the Garden of Eden. History since that day is replete with instances of how individuals and groups struggle with coexistence. That struggle has often been violent (violation) and led to homicide and genocide.
This very reason is why I believe Christ started the Sermon on the Mount with what we today call the Beatitudes. Christ reframes our thinking and outlines some truths about living among each other in God’s creation. A key theme is redirection from being self centric to being God centric. From a God-centric mind frame, we then can be motivated to behavior differently, to live differently, and thus receive blessings.
We are to live effective lives and impact those around us. We are to be attractive to others so they can be drawn to us so we can share the Gospel first and share our lives second. We are to live righteously so that we are not hypocritical to those who are watching us to see if we live truthfully. We are to live with humility because we know we are sinners and only by God’s grace can we even draw each breath.
As I see the Beatitudes in the context of stewardculture, Christ was, among other things, helping us have a sense of perspective. This perspective gives us a foundation upon which we should see the world and those in it. In short, the perspective teaches us about our response to others.
The kingdom is a “reality apart from any human achievement. Thus, the beatitudes are, above all, predicated upon the experience of the grace of God,” Thus, from Verse 3, we should understand that we are not worthy of God’s love toward us and yet blessed by His extension of His love toward us. If we have truly internalized our unworthiness, we have an uncolored view of others. If our view is impacted by anything, it is to see others as in need of the Savior as urgently as it was for us, and our role in introducing others to this Savior from which we derive joy for living and rescue from the punishment of our sins.
This view of one’s personal unworthiness can either lead to rebellion or to repentance. In Verse 4 we see that those who recognize their need for true repentance will mourn and experience the blessing to which Christ refers. Whether we debate about that blessing occurring now or in the future is not what I want to discuss. I simply want to point out that those who mourn because of their feelings about their own sin are promised blessing from the Lord Himself.
A quick review of social media will reveal that there is not much self-control or restraint via humility. The gentle or meek Christian is unpretentious. We should be free from malice and vengefulness. Dr. Thomas Constable rhetorically asked: How do we respond when a non-Christian points out our sin? How do we respond when others “regard us as sinful?” Christ teaches that we will be blessed if we are meek. That blessing is significant, but the blessing is not our motivation. Our repentance is our motivation to be gentle with other people, even when they are not gentle with us.
According to Constable, the righteousness that Christians should hunger for is “personal holiness and the desire that holiness may prevail among all people.” The promise by Christ is that this will come to pass for those who seek it. Again, this puts the Christian in a position of hopeful perspective when considering those around us.
From our meekness, we move to forgiveness and compassion (Verse 7) for other humans regardless of who they are. This characteristic is called mercy. Mercifulness is not an act or set of acts, it is a defining characteristic of the Christian toward other humans. When we live this way among non-believers, we will be blessed.
Being pure in heart is a great description of someone who is totally sold out for God and His ways. The Christian who is pure in heart is without distraction in their relationship with God. They are not intent on personal or Earthy gain, but devotion in their relationship with the Creator. Christ teaches the result of this is the ability to experience God in a powerful and intimate way. When we have this experience of God, our desire is to live in a way pleasing to God which influences how we interact with non-Christians.
In my mind, the only real peace for a human is to be reconciled to God by the remission of sin through Jesus Christ. How will the non-Christian know the truth of this peace if we do not both tell it and live it? We are peacemakers if we lead others into a reconciled relationship with God. This is our work in the secular world, for we will be the sons of God if we help lead others to Christ just as Israel was to lead the Gentiles to God.
When we live this way, we will endure persecution from some non-Christians. This persecution is something we should anticipate because we have the joy that others seek but are unwilling to give up themselves. But in humility and meekness, we should forgive those who persecute us because we will leave that to God’s ultimate justice and know it will be executed perfectly. We will be blessed as a result of persecution for being a Christian. And, because we are a Christian, we will inherit heaven and all persecution will end.
Giving His conclusion to the beatitudes, Christ wraps His teachings up nicely in Verses 13-16. If we could succinctly describe how a Christian is to respond to others in the world, we could use Christ’s words and say we are to be salt and light.
Like salt is a powerful agent in the world, we should also be. The characteristics of this particular compound are useful as metaphors. Similar to salt, we should be agents of purity, preservation, and productivity. Thomas Constable went so far as to say that, similar to salt, Christians are to be “a moral disinfectant in a sin-infested world.”
If we are not agents in the world for Christ, then we will be of little value and serve no real purpose. We cannot be silent and inactive as Christians. Even when we retire from our professional life we must understand that our job as Christians does not end due to age. Our response to others is one of evangelism and Christian example.
Light is seen in darkness. Light creates a focus of human attention. The Light of the pillar of fire that led the Hebrews in the desert was their guide. The light emanating from the Tabernacle indicated the present of God. Like these two lights, we as believers must shine to focus other people’s attention because we are the tabernacle of God and His light can emanate from us to draw unbelievers to Himself.
Our work while we labor bears witness to the Light that is in us as Christians. We should not put ourselves under a metaphorical basket. Rather, we should place ourselves in the secular world so that others hear, see, and experience Christ. Our lampstand can take the form of nearly infinite platforms upon which we live our lives among non-believers. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow Him.”
These behaviors, characteristics, and ways of living in the world are not exclusive to our response to non-believers. But, they will affect a response in the non-believer. We are not responsible for the response of the non-believer to us. We are responsible to reflect God to them and leave to the Holy Spirit to do the work in the inner person of the non-believers around us.
I’m certainly not advocating we shift back and forth between sets of standards of living depending on who we are surrounded by. Life is rarely that simple. I believe the Bible teaches us we are to live simultaneously by all these principles.
How does living this way have any bearing on stewardculture? I’ll reiterate my point earlier. The way we respond to each other will have a direct influence on the way we respond to God and the way we respond to God’s creation. The way we respond to God will have an influence on the way we respond to God’s creation and the way we respond to each other. The way we respond to God’s creation will influence the way we respond to God and the way we respond to each other. They are inseparable because we live holistically and the boundaries between moments of our life are rarely clearly isolated from each other.
The way we respond to God, His creation, and each other is simply the way we go about life. Whether we go about as God describes in the scriptures is the difference. Someone practicing stewardculture will seek the biblical way in all three of these areas.
 There is considerable dialog on just what the permaculture third ethic is. For brevity, I have simply stated it, as have thousands of others, as “fair share.” In an April 13, 2017 article published by the Permaculture Research Institute, Tobias Long wrote, “Initially, the third ethic was introduced as ‘Setting Limits to Population and Consumption,’ but has been expressed in a wide variety of different ways since then: ‘Fair Share,’ ‘Limiting Resource Use and Population,’ ‘Redistribute Surplus,’ and ‘Living within Limits.’ While there is obviously quite an overlap between these expressions, the idea that the third ethic is somewhat open to interpretation leaves a bit of a question mark as far as the application of these principles in permaculture design.”
 Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13, pg. 96
 Constable, Thomas L., “Notes on Matthew,” 2017 edition.