What can Jesus teach us today?
Are you good at something? Maybe you have mechanical aptitude, are good with numbers, or music, writing, talking, business, sport, art, problem solving or something else? These are all gifts from God. I'm taking the position here that this is self evident. If you are having trouble believing that God exists, then there might be other things you need to look into first, but perhaps as you learn more about Jesus teaching and how you can learn to be a better person (not just a better person but the best person you can be), you might acknowledge the divine wisdom his teaching contains. Anyway, if you can accept that these gifts are from God, you will see it is from Him through Christ Jesus that we must learn how to master them - for the good of all and the glory of God. Jesus is the master of masters in all spheres of human attainment. This, I understand is a very bold claim to make, especially to the sceptical, but the more you learn from Jesus, the more you realise that it must be true.
For each Christian, growing in the likeness of Christ is (or should be) a fundamental goal. While this is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, it can't take place without our co-operation and commitment. We are called not just to be converts or to merely hold the right beliefs but to be disciples of Christ. What does that mean to be a disciple? It means to be a devoted student of Jesus the teacher. But if Christ is our teacher, what is he going to teach us and how is he going to teach us? Can we really learn from Jesus things that are relevant to our lives in the 21st century? Can being a student of Christ make me a better mechanic, accountant, nurse or teacher? Can being Jesus' disciple make me a better person? Until we have a real vision of being the best we can be, fulfilling our true potential as a human being, and recognise that it can only come from being a daily devoted student of Christ - we will not be disciples of Jesus. Why would we want to be a disciple of Jesus if we were not convinced that he was the best person to be learning from.
So what exactly are we hoping to learn as disciples of Christ? Are we hoping to become wandering rabbis healing the sick and preaching to the poor, perhaps offending the social elite by our lack of conformity to their expectations as we go along? Maybe for some that might be the case, but is that what we are all supposed to do? I think there is more to it than that. A favourite Christian author of mine, Dallas Willard, describes discipleship like this: I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I. Wearing a WWJD (what would Jesus do?) band is one thing, but to actually know what Jesus would do if he were in our shoes takes some serious learning and can not be inferred from clichéd ideas of who Jesus is. I guess the key thing to highlight is that we are each unique people in unique circumstances and while we can all benefit from adopting the qualities of character that Jesus modelled, understanding how that works out in all the specifics of our lives takes real knowledge and wisdom.
We each have different gifts and talents, as it is described in the Bible, there is one body but many parts - each to perform it's own function but for the common good (see 1 Corinthians 12). However, it is from God that we get our various gifts and talents, and He, that is Christ, is the true master of each one of them! For those who bother to look, there is real knowledge to be found in the Bible, to help us effectively use our special talents towards good ends.
OK, let's look at some specific details. Even if we have different roles in life and different gifts and talents, we can look at some general principles for living, and at the qualities of Christ's character. I find the best summary of this in the description of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Can I be a better mathematician with love? It might seem like an unlikely pairing, but if you can't clearly see the answer as a resounding yes, well, you've got a long way to go. Or how about these: could I be a better mechanic with patience, a better nurse with kindness, a better policeman with joy, a better politician with goodness, a better parent with self-control. The fact of the matter is that we could all be better at anything we do with just a little of these qualities. I also like this quote from Dallas Willard, "anything you can do with anger you can do better without". Obviously, these are just the tip of the iceberg, but can you imagine what the world would be like if every human on the planet had these qualities deeply in the core of their character? Seriously, it would be like heaven!! This vision is the good news of Jesus Christ - how can we not be excited about that.
However the reality of our world is a long way from that and so is the reality of our own life. There is work to be done and it involves the hard work of being transformed into new kinds of people. We can not change other people, but we can make the steps to be students of Jesus and be changed ourselves, and help to teach others who are willing to become his students as well. This isn't about all being the same, but how as unique people we can be fully human in the most beautiful way.
Today I turn 40. So to mark this significant milestone I am renewing my commitment to be a disciple of Jesus and to be a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Admittedly, I have a long way to go on the journey, but it is encouraging to see from this middle age, that I have at least made some progress. Why don't you join me?