As we conclude one year and begin another, it is fitting that we focus on our calling as Christians to a life of holiness, a calling that is especially pronounced for us as servants. Consider the words of the Holy Apostle Paul:
But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing (1 The 4:10–12).
The Holy Apostle exhorts believers to respond to this calling by working diligently in the Church so that they may present themselves properly to outsiders living in society. Notice how he refers to “those who are outside” the Church. In essence, he draws a line that differentiates people living within the Church and those living outside in society.
As Christians, therefore, we have a strong sense of identity within our community, an identity that rejects the ways of the world. The earliest Christians understood that our Lord Jesus Christ was radically opposed to everything this world stands for. They accepted the call to holiness as one to radically and irrevocably break all ties with the faithless and secular elements of society around them. This even meant breaking off relationships with friends, no matter how close, who lived a life inconsistent with the life in Christ (see, e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-11).
With the coming of a new year, it is good for us to reflect on our calling and identity as Christians. Although it is not politically correct to say so these days, the reality in the Holy Scriptures is that there is an “us” and “them.” One cannot read the accounts of Abram and Sarai in Egypt, Moses and the Israelites in Egypt, the Israelites held captive in Babylon, or the entire New Testament without clearly recognizing a contrast between the people of God, on the one hand, and the people of the world, on the other. This is why the Holy Apostle refers to the people of the world using the Greek tous exō, which literally means “those outside.”
What does this mean for us? Are we simply dividing ourselves from the rest of society? Of course not. Although we love everyone and work tirelessly to bring all to Christ, nonetheless, we cannot let the ways of the world define us or impact our faith and service. This is one of the great challenges for servants in the 21st century, because there is constant pressure on us to serve inside the Church while living according to the ways of the world outside the Church, simply to “fit in.”
As the new year dawns, we must stand against this perspective and way of living, for it is hypocrisy. We are minorities, yes, but nonetheless, our faith and commitment inside the Church will do a great deal to call those outside the Church to Christ. We must not allow them to influence us; we must influence them (see, e.g., Mt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12; and 1 Cor 10:32).
What St. Paul teaches us concerning this coming year is that we must work hard, be closely bound together in brotherly love (philadelphia), and preach Christ, not by gimmicks or external displays, but simply by the way we live. As Tertullian wrote, “We don’t speak big words, but we live.”
May God grant you all a blessed and fruitful New Year 2015.