Dear friends, brothers and sisters, good morning and Namaste.
In this Assembly 16 of Mennonite World Conference Pennsylvania 2015, we are again celebrating our common Anabaptist/Mennonite faith and life in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. So on this occasion wishing you “All the best” on behalf of the MWC Deacons Commission and also on behalf of the Anabaptist/Mennonite Churches and people in India, I greet you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I express my thanks to the MWC Deacons Commission for inviting me to address this Assembly on this Deacons Commission day.
For today’s meditation, the Scriptural text is Galatians 5:13–14: “For you, brethren (sisters included), have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”
These verses, as I see them, aptly summarize our expected life together in the community of faith, and provide a fitting base for our meditation’s theme “Walking in Autonomy and Community,” under the overall theme of this Assembly, “Walking with God.” So, I invite you all to join with me in this meditation. Please note, all biblical quotations in this meditation are from NKJV of the Bible.
In these two verses of Galatians 5, there are three phrases that correspond with the three words of the theme of this meditation. Let us focus our attention to these three phrases.
The first phrase is “called to liberty,” and this spells autonomy. The God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord, is a wonderful God. It is his will and plan that those who are in Christ Jesus be liberated from all bondages, including the bondages under the “guardians and stewards” and “the elements of the world” (Galatians 4:2–3). That is, in Christ Jesus we are liberated from bondages of all human social, religious, ethical, spiritual and political rules and regulations of this world.
In fact, in Christ Jesus we are liberated for that freedom which God himself enjoys, because in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are called to be God’s children (Galatians 4:4–7). This is the autonomy, that is, the freedom to self-rule and self-determination, that any person or any community is called to enjoy having been in Christ Jesus.
The second phrase is “through love serve,” and this defines walking. The God who has liberated us in Jesus Christ for godly freedom is a God of love. This God in Jesus Christ, because of his love, became a slave to serve us humans, and died on the cross (Philippians 2:6–9) to free us for the godly freedom. So walking with God, that is, walking as children of God, is walking in love, committing oneself freely into the services of others as Jesus our Lord did.
It is worth noting that the Greek word used in noun form translated “bondservant,” that is, “slave” for our Lord, in Philippians 2:7 is used here in verb form and translated “serve.” In Mark 10:44, using the same word in noun form, Jesus our Lord has admonished us Christian leaders to be “slave” of all.
The Leviticus 19:18 command: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (v.14) is foundational for the phrase “through love serve.” The love of this Old Testament law, called “royal law” in James 2:8, is explained by our Lord in Matthew 5:43–44 as not only reaching to the people belonging to the community of faith, but as reaching out to the enemies also.
The faculty at Theological Seminary Bienenberg (in an October 15, 2014 release that appeared on the MWC website) declared that “Islamic State terror does not render pacifism obsolete.” This means no terror can force us to resort to violence, nor can stop us from loving and doing good to others, even to those who terrorise us. This is our walking.
The third phrase is “one another,” and this indicates community. The phrase spells mutuality; it means a community of togetherness. God calls individual people to faith in Christ Jesus and joins them into a new humanity, the body of Christ Jesus, which is the church, the community of faith. The admonition: “through love serve one another” means that, in spite of our godly freedom in Jesus Christ, we all, belonging to this community of faith, stand in need of one another’s loving services; and that we all have gifts and abilities to give loving services to one another.
Just as our Lord is incomplete without his body the church, and needs it for his ministry in the world (Ephesians 1:23), so also we are incomplete without one another’s life and we need one another’s contributions in our worldwide community of faith for our joint Christian life, witness and ministry in the world.
Thus the community of faith is shared lives of people freed in Christ Jesus and joined together to serving one another through love. This freedom is not only to serve one another, but also to serve and do good to people outside the community of faith, and even to those who hate us. This is the divine, royal lifestyle we are called to live out both individually and jointly, which is our walking in autonomy and community.
The challenge now is to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Galatians. 5:1). This overarching Galatians challenge is to live in the freedom of the Spirit and to daily crucify the flesh. In Christ Jesus, having been freed to a life of autonomy and joined together in a community of faith, our walking, both individually and jointly, is through love to freely serving both friends and enemies alike (Matthew 5:43–48).
In this epistle to the Galatians, I see four areas of challenge where we need to stand fast in the liberty of our individual and community lives:
Through love, we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Mennonite World Conference is a worldwide fellowship of more than 1.3 million baptized members spread over six continents, living in several countries and belonging to more than 100 national churches that bring together thousands of local congregations. We are bound to be different from one another. This diversity and uniqueness are assets enriching our worldwide community of faith for its life and ministry in the world.
Like the New Jerusalem, to be adorned by “the glory and the honour of the nations” in the future (Revelation 21:24–26), this global community today is richer by our diversity and uniqueness. Let us therefore accept, appreciate, enjoy and cherish one another’s uniqueness, diversity, gifts and services in our community.
Through love “let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Instead of indulging in fleshly works listed in Galatians 5:19–21, we are urged to bear the fruit of the Spirit in personal and community lives. The fruit of the Spirit, a characteristic spectrum of the Spirit-filled life: “love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” is to be characteristic of the life of the people and the community of faith visible to others.
Our early Anabaptist/Mennonite forefathers and -mothers, wherever they went, were recognized by their honesty, hard work, peacefulness, service, biblical morality and close community life. About the early Christians it used to be said, “Behold, how they love one-another.”
The Mennonite churches in Taiwan, under the umbrella of the Fellowship of Mennonite Churches in Taiwan (FOMCIT), “are seeking new insight from their theological origins, hoping to show the world a sample of life under the lordship of Christ.” Let us, especially those of us who are leaders, endeavour to develop in ourselves and in our communities the lifestyle that reflects the godly life in Jesus Christ our Lord, bringing praises to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).
Through love, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). We belong to a worldwide community of faith. Hence, it is almost impossible for many individual churches and conferences to directly relate with fellow churches and conferences in other countries and continents. MWC, with its commissions, especially the Deacons Commission, is our forum and channel for this relationship.
On the MWC website, it read that “The Deacons Commission promotes the attitude and practice of service among member Churches by means of visits, teaching and materials.” Practice the spirit of equality and interdependency, admonishes 2 Corinthians 8:14, that “your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack.”
About the Bihar Mennonite Mandali, India, it is told: “The Mennonite World Conference’s Global Sharing Fund was a blessing for the church: with the money Minj secured from this fund he was able to start new programs for the church.” In a personal conversation, Rev. Emmanuel Minj told that the fund has been used to equip the pastors and leaders for church ministry and to train the youth for evangelistic outreach. Let us use MWC Deacons Commission as our channel to mutually share gifts and talents with one another in the worldwide community of faith, showing our love for one another.
Through love, “let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:10). The command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” called the “royal law” (James 2:8), is interpreted by our Lord that the love of this command reaches out even to those who hate and persecute us.
In many places of the world, Christians are facing hatred and persecutions. This hatred and persecution faced is witnessed sporadically even in today’s India. Moreover, many churches often suffer internal disunity and divisions because of selfish ambitions and personality clashes among the members and leaders. These internal maladies weaken the life and witness of the church.
My own conference, Mennonite Church in India, suffered a six-year division from 1984 to 1990 because of internal conflicts. But love for one another prevailed and the unity was restored. The same had been experienced in Bharatiya (Indian) General Conference Mennonite Church. The Conference remained divided for 10 years; but here also at last, love for one another prevailed. This divine royal law of twin commands: “through love serve one another” as voluntary slave and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” is the only remedy to churches ’internal maladies and the only Christian fortification against external hatred and persecutions.
Let us all of us here resolve in our hearts and minds that, as members of the Anabaptist/Mennonite Christian faith community, we will practice this divine royal law of loving and serving in our individual and joint lives, no matter what the cost.
Moreover, considering Jesus’ resoluteness: “He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51); his comment: “the sons of this world are more shrewd...than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8); his command: “be wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16) and similar teachings, we are mandated to be prepared to face persecutions and terrorism.
Therefore, I urge the local churches, conferences and Mennonite World Conference to develop practical guidelines for ways to lovingly and peacefully relate both individually and jointly with friends and also with persecutors and terrorists.
Friends, we are liberated in Jesus Christ for a divine royal lifestyle of love and service. The freedom in Jesus Christ spells a freedom that invites us to demonstrate in our personal and community lives the character of God in Jesus Christ; and to mutually share our gifts and talents, that is, to share our lives with one another in loving services. This is a freedom that reaches out with loving services to our neighbours and even to those who hate and mean to harm us. This is our walking with God in autonomy and community.
Once again on this occasion of MWC Assembly 16, Pennsylvania2015 celebrations, I wish you “All the best.” Thank you all. Jai Masihki! (Victory/Praise to Christ).
—Shantkumar S. Kunjam has pastored several congregations in the Mennonite Church in India Conference and was ordained bishop.