“To the Least Among You” vs. Power Religion
Podcast: Axe to the Root
Topics: Christian Life, Discipleship
In the final account, our service to the lowest among us will determine the strength of our faith. That is where true Christianity is.
– Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, Herbert Schlossberg
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Welcome to Episode 71 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes I will try to expose a religion that is as old as the Fall and yet always young and vigorous and new and coming under new forms and disguises and creeping into Christianity under many new excuses and emotional reasons; it is subtle and devious in its effects on our thinking, to the point that we not only don’t realize we are fully immersed in it but we also believe we are oh so righteous when we practice it and we presume to moralize on others as part of practicing it; and yet, when it slaps us in the face and we find ourselves on the wrong side of it, we complain loudly and we are so good at finding the right Biblical verses that expose it and oppose it . . . only to return to practicing it ourselves whenever we have the chance. It is a religion that often has no specific idols for worship, and even sometimes sneaks into our lives under the disguise of “strong and vigorous” Christianity, but in reality, it is more idolatrous than the worst superstitions of the most backward tribes in the corners of our world. And unlike those backward superstitions, it is quite rational, and quite appealing to the spirit of our age. Sometime ago, in a sermon, I heard Paul Washer admonishing his listeners to dig deeper and deeper into their consciences to discover the sin they hide there. I believe he is wrong in that admonition in the sense that a redeemed person needs to be focused on the Kingdom of God, not on his own navel, and certainly not waste his time in useless retrospection. In the process of building the Kingdom of God, God will continue bringing out in open our inner sins, in our actions and our words. Well, the religion I will be talking about has always laid out in open, and we have been way to eager to practice it openly. And it is about time for us to stop. (Have patience, stay with me, I will tell you later what that religion is.)
A few weeks ago, in one of the FB groups I am a member of, someone asked the question: “Is it immoral to refuse to tip bad service?” A very important question, you see. A question that shows how spoiled we have become. “Bad service,” of course, for most of the people in the group “and not only in that group” usually means that the waiter was not going through the motions of showing” or, rather, professionally faking” personal respect to the people he was serving in a perfect way, as they expected. Or perhaps was not attentive to their minutest desires. Or was not fast enough to the second. Or something else that made his customers feel a notch less than catered for, spoiled, and worshiped, as they really deserve. Seriously. Now, I am not trying to excuse really bad service here. But think about it, just two generations ago, in the West, or just a generation ago in Eastern Europe where I grew up, just having enough and affordable quantity of proteins to make it through the day was considered a blessing. And here we are, not only having so much food that we throw away half of it, but also having that food prepared by someone else and even served to us by someone else (not to mention that someone else will do our dishes for us), and, on top of it, food plus cooking plus service are so darn affordable for the majority of us that we don’t have enough restaurants for everyone. (Where I live, in Houston, you have to wait in lines in order to get to eat at some places.) And as if that were not enough, we are now obsessed with a different sort of pleasure: Will the waiter play the game for us in such a way as to make us experience a sense of being important? I may be ranting a bit too much on this one, but it seems to me that, like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, we have forgotten the taste of food, and the only thing we have a taste for is wielding power over people in a weaker and more vulnerable position in the society. But more about this in a few minutes.
The responses to the question were, in their majority, as I expected: most people wouldn’t forgive a waiter anything even close to bad service” and, of course, bad service defined as lack of proper respect and homage. They wouldn’t leave tips unless they perceived they were treated as they deserved (I wonder if even some of the Christians remembered what they really deserved). Some posts reached the level of unbearable sanctimonious moralizing on waiters: quite easy, I guess, given that waiters” and especially waitresses” are about the lowest-status, most vulnerable working group in our society; waiting on tables is usually the last resort for those who have run out of other options.
What I noticed, also, was that the harshest and most vocal moralizers were, as a rule, the same people who would otherwise vote for the same politicians (on both sides of the spectrum), no matter how much they betrayed them. Those who are evangelicals and conservatives would justify Trump’s sexual escapades no matter how disgusting they are. Those who are leftist would justify and support Obama no matter what. All sides would support their government schools while bemoaning the worsening quality of education in those schools. All sides will look for excuses for the failures of their favorite government agencies (police, welfare, military, unions, regulatory, etc,) even when these government agencies commit obvious crimes. When it comes to men in power, all these people are quite eager to excuse, forgive, and forget. But wait until they get to a restaurant and they have to deal with some poor waitress. She better be perfect in making them feel important, or she will be going home penniless. A double standard, isn’t it. Actually, no. It is not a double standard. It is a fully consistent practical behavior, based on a fully consistent religion: the religion of power.
Now, in order to understand what the religion of power is, we need to have a definition of the concept of”power” relevant to it.”Power,” of course, can mean many things. There is the scientific concept of power which is defined as work divided by time; or, to translate it in layman’s terms, it is the ability of an energy source to do certain amount of work over a fixed period of time. The more powerful a thing is, the more work it can perform for a shorter time. Imagine a gigantic tanker vessel: if you replace its enormous engine with the motor of a fishing boat, that motor might still be able to move the vessel a little bit, but it will take ages to move it across the ocean? Why? Because smaller power means that the same work” moving the vessel across the ocean” will be completed in a longer period of time. This is the literal definition of power, but from it, we derive the other definitions of power. In the cosmological sense, we say that God is all-powerful because He can accomplish an infinite amount of work within a portion of a second; which is why the doctrine of the six-day creation is such an important part of any Biblically sound theology: God doesn’t need ages to create the world, and the only reason He extended it to six days was because he had a covenantal lesson to teach us, not because He couldn’t create the world with a snap of his fingers. The six-day creation story shows that God not only possesses infinite power but also that He is capable of perfect control of that power for His purposes. That’s because, in the cosmological sense, power is simply another attribute of His being.
Power, therefore, is the ability to shape and re-direct reality to serve one’s purposes. This cosmological definition of”power” leads to our modern general definition of power: Power is the ability of a person or an institution to shape reality for certain purposes. It can apply to any kind of reality: spiritual, physical, economic, social, relational, even the reality of mental constructs and perceptions and interpretations. A strong muscular man is relatively powerful compared to other men or to women because he is capable of lifting or moving or breaking or bending things that other people are not capable of. A highly intelligent person is relatively powerful compared to others because he is capable of grasping the logical connections in the world” and acting on them in a way other people can’t. A person of influence and charismatic presence is relatively powerful compared to other people because he can muster the support or compassion or friendship of many in a way other people can’t. A rich person is relatively powerful compared to others because he can pay to convince others to serve him in a way other people can’t. Etc., etc. People of power can achieve the same results or goals with less effort than people without power” namely because their power makes them capable of moving and shaping reality better than other people.
What is important to understand here is that power is a privilege, and it is given from above. While power abilities still have to be developed through exercise, any exercise still must have something to work with. Exercise and training and self-discipline can make a person increase their ordinary abilities to levels above the ordinary. But even self-discipline is a supernatural gift of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). And then, also, we have supernatural gifts given to people, which the Greek text calls dunamis, meaning . . . well, powers. Why is this important to understand? Because when we discuss power in the society and among men, we need to understand that there is a covenantal aspect to it, of which we will be talking later. Power is not covenantally neutral; and therefore, our understanding of power and our exercise of power must always be within a covenantal, that is, ethical/judicial frame. Outside such frame, any use or non-use of power can be a violation of the covenant, and therefore a grounds for condemnation.
In an earlier podcast, when we talked about patent laws, I mentioned the fact that science was developed by Christian scientists with the purpose of making it a tool for our obedience to God in the Dominion Mandate. What was created as a tool, secularists then elevated as their god. (You heard that many times, I bet,”I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.”) And they believe that their idolatry of worshiping a tool makes them superior to those who worship the God behind both the tool and the world, which it was supposed to explore. There has been a greater idolatry at work among men, however, a worship of another, greater and more comprehensive tool. So great that science is actually only a part of that greater tool. That tool is power.
Very early in its history mankind learned that power could be used for the purposes of man in his rebellion against God. In fact, in the very second recorded act of sin in history, Cain resorted to power to resolve his problem with his brother. He shouldn’t have had a problem in the first place, given that the issue was between him and God, not between him and his brother. But even with the problem, God explained to Cain what the true solution to his problem was: ethics.”Why are you angry?”, God asked.”If you do good, you will be accepted; but if you don’t do good, sin is at the door. And you need to be master over your desire, not let it lord over you.” This has always been the Biblical solution to all problems of mankind, an ethical solution: Do good and control your desires. Cain gave the start to the fallen mankind’s solution to all problems: Instead of doing good, use the power given to you to solve your problems in your own way.
This trend of resorting to power continued in the line of Cain, and in all of mankind in general. Five generations after Cain, one of his descendants, Lamech, took two wives (a statement in itself of wielding superior power) and bragged to them of his solving a problem he had with a young man by resorting to the use of power, just like his ancestor Cain:”I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Gen. 4:23-24). (You can’t miss the irony of this macho man bragging to women about his power.)
The step from abusing a tool to turning that tool into an idol and worshiping it is never too big. There’s a number of such examples in the Bible, one of the clearest ones being the brass serpent Moses raised in the wilderness (Num. 21:9) which was later raised as an idol (2 Kings 18:4). Well, guess what, power, that tool given to man to use in his service to God in subduing the earth, was also destined to be elevated to a divine status. That may have happened even before the Flood, although we don’t have any specific indications in the Word about it. The specific indication of men worshiping power as such came after the Flood, in Genesis 11.
Yes, that’s what Babel was. While many preachers today try to see in the Tower of Babel some modern type of elite conspiracy for one-world government, the text says nothing of the sort: Babel was a local government, and it did not include all the people all over the earth. The text says nothing about a one-world government, nor does it speak of government at all, or of an elite. These were just ordinary people who gathered there, and were afraid of being”scattered,” and decided to create something to stay together and to make themselves a name. What they tried to create was not a government but a religion; the language of”reaching into heaven” is inescapably religious language throughout the Bible. (See, for example, Gen. 28:12: the language of”reaching into heaven” is not just similar, it is identical in Hebrew to the language in Gen. 11:4.) The men worked to establish a common worship, first and foremost; reaching heaven meant that they were trying to establish a new religion and a new worship. But who was the god of that new religion? You need to have a god to worship, after all. The god is not mentioned in the text. But we can grasp who the god was if we trace the city of Babel earlier, in the previous chapter. In Gen. 10:8-14, Babel is said to have been the beginning (in Hebrew, rosh, the head, or also, the capital) of the kingdom of Nimrod, the first one to become a mighty one on the earth. The men who gathered at Babel, gathered to be under the power of a mighty man, and wanted to build a shrine. The shrine was meant to make them a name, just like in the previous chapter, in verse 9, Nimrod had a reputation, a mighty hunter before the Lord. The center of worship, therefore, must have been not some made up god, but the power and might of man, as both the divine substance in man, and the savior of man. The men’s intent was to show the world that they could overpower even God the Creator. That such was their intention is obvious from God’s words,”nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible to them” (v. 6). The word”impossible” there has its root in the word batser, which means”fortified.” (For example, the same word is used in Deuteronomy 9:1,”great cities fortified to heaven.”) Nothing would be fortified against these people, they would be all-powerful. And the Tower would be the temple of their power, one that would reach up to heaven and would give men access to what had been barred to them since Genesis 3. That cherubim with the flaming sword would soon become toast before the new and powerful god, humanity. God barred man from the Garden because of ethics; man will force his way back into the Garden through power.
God broke the power of men by breaking their understanding of each other, and with it, their unity which was the source of their power. Today, there are all kinds of bizarre and imaginative and anachronistic interpretations of what happened there, and we will cover the Tower of Babel in another episode. The reality, however, from the text, is that what God did was break the back of the power religion men were trying to build in opposition to Him and His religion. He did not postulate division among mankind forever, as some heretical teachings have it; unity is good and it is unity, not division, that is the true normative state of mankind. He declared the wickedness of their power religion and showed how He would deal with it every time humans try to set up such religion against Him” destroy their unity. His target was power religion, not unity. And it is power religion that unredeemed mankind has always had in its heart, throughout history.
Men did not stop there, however; they continued lusting after power. And they continued lusting after power in the same way as they started: by trying to establish collectives and hierarchical structures based on power. I won’t go into a lot of details about it; you need to listen to my lecture of four years ago before the Kuyper Foundation,”The Sovereignty of God or the Sovereignty of the State.” (It is on Youtube somewhere.) After Babel, men continued trying to set up collectives with the purpose of accumulating power, and dominating other men. The history of mankind is a long list of wars between different religions of power. And, in the midst of all these wars, God also intervened with His religion of ethics, and waged war on all of man’s religions of power.”The kings of the earth take their stand,” says Psalm 2,”and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed.” God laughs at them, and deals with them in exactly the same way He dealt with the religion of power at Babel: He breaks them up:”You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.” No matter what false religion the fallen man takes up, it is always a religion of power; it is always an attempt to rule over his fellow man, an image-bearer of God, and through that, rule over God. In the final battle between God and man, in Revelation 13 and forward, the enemy of God is the Beast, and what is that Beast main characteristic? Power.”Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” (Rev. 13:4).
Because this worship of power, this lust after power is a religion in its own, it has certain religious tenets. Namely, that power is good, and all who have power are by necessity good and righteous. But even worse, the lack of power is considered to be a proof of ethical deficiency. This is to be expected, of course, given that a closer relationship with your god is always a sign of greater piety. If power is your god, having power means you are spiritually superior to those who don’t have power. Thus, the people in a lower social position are by necessity guilty for their lack of power; and therefore, the burden of the laws you create will be on them, on those who do not have power. We should expect such a religion of power, therefore, to be more concerned with how we treat those on the social ladder above us, rather than the least among us.
And guess what. This is what our modern society has become. We have become a society which legislates, to the minutes detail, how inferiors are supposed to treat their superiors. And when I say”legislates,” I don’t mean simply the laws that come out of our legislatures. I mean also the overall customs and mores in our society, the social habits expressed in the media and especially on social media. I mean also the teaching in our schools. I mean the teaching in our families. And last, but worst of all, I mean the teaching in our churches, coming out of our pulpits. We, and our whole society, are all obsessed with power religion, and are under the spell of a power religion.
Look at our laws. From beginning to end, our laws are not concerned with anything else but the relation of the individual to the state” which means, to the most powerful institution in the society. Government bureaucrats control so much power” including firepower” and thus, they are really the most powerful group. And that without any real service. All of their power is predicated on their ability to jump through bureaucratic hoops. And the majority of our laws are focused not on the protection of individual citizens, but on the protection of government bureaucrats from those citizens. Just look at the laws protecting those who project power, the cops; there are special laws that allow cops to do what no individual citizen is allowed to do” from the kinds of weapons cops can use, all the way to the legal privilege of cops to kill individual citizens without legal repercussions. Politicians are also well protected from the consequences of their own laws; remember, while Congress was passing Obamacare, Congressmen were careful to pass a completely different healthcare law for themselves, one that allowed them to live off taxpayers” money forever. The same principles apply not only to the federal government but to all local governmentts as well. There are more laws to protect local bureaucrats against taxpayers than there are to protect taxpayers against bureaucrats. Every time there is a decision by a government body to tax or regulate more, it is final; every time there is a successful appeal by private citizens, it is only temporary, until the next legislative session, or until the next bucreaucratic regulation, which always annuls the appeal. In all their laws, all levels of government are concerned only with how the less powerful should treat the more powerful, not the other way around. Look at the special privileges for police. Back in Eastern Europe, under Communism, we knew the definition of tyranny: Tyranny was when the laws gave special privileges to the powerful of the day. And what do we have today in the US? We have laws that allow cops to do things that no private citizen would be allowed to do without going to jail or having to spent tons of money on fines or legal fees. While cops get away even with murder committed in broad daylight, in the view of all, and even recorded on camera. Because men in power are more important than everyone else.
In fact, in the developments of the last decade in the US, laws have been changed not only to ignore the weakest members of the society, but also to actively punish everyone who decides to help them, out of the goodness of their hearts. Almost all big cities now have regulations that ban private citizens from setting up private soup kitchens; to set up one, one has to go through multiple regulations and requirements, and the final cost is so high that the value of the money and time lost to the government far outweigh the value of the foods distributed to the poor. Thus, even in charity, the government considers itself needier than the poorest people in the community; if you want to feed the poor, you first need to feed” or, rather, enrich” the most important people, the rulers, and then you can move to helping the poor.
But why blame the government and its legislators when our whole political system is based on a power religion, starting from the voting booth. Our whole political system is a power religion applied to practice. It presupposes that ethics” issues of good and evil” in the society are best decided on the basis of who can get the greatest number of votes behind them. That’s the very definition of democracy as a political system. Which means, whoever has the power of numbers gets to declare good and evil; that means, he gets to be a god. That’s as much a power religion as you can find it anywhere. And don’t make the mistake ot believe that Republicans are any different than Democrats in this respect; as much as Republicans swear they are not for democracy but for a republic, in practice, there is no difference between the two political constituencies; both believe that whoever has the power of of the greater vote should have the power to determine good and evil by the stroke of the legislative pen. Democrats would force us all to be good by compulsory re-distribution of wealth, Republicans would force us all to be good by supporting government schools or bombing foreign countries to democracy. Democrats would declare a criminal anyone who doesn’t want to participate in government healthcare or has a gun; Republicans would declare a criminal anyone who crosses a border without asking federal bureaucrats (mainly Democrat) for permission. Etc. At every level, in every details of their respective political views and practices, both major sides of the political spectrum are devoted worshipers of power. A true republic, namely, a restraint on power under a transcendent, Divine Law that is independent of the whims and agendas of men in power, has never been the ideology of either party, even of that which has the largest number of churchmen in it.
Not to mention, of course, our foreign policy, which is entirely predicated on intimidation and the use of power. It has been a long time since the United States had a foreign policy based on ethics and service. Even where, on the surface, our government distributes foreign aid, it is not real service to the needs of the local population; it is our bribe to local powerful men to take the right side in the international struggle for power, and to keep their populations subjugated.
Such policy of oppressing and subjugating foreign nations abroad is paralleled by our own attitude towards our minorities at home. Objectively speaking, ethnic minorities are always the weaker partner in all ethnic or racial relations, when we speak of groups. (They are minorities, for crying out loud.) And yet, somehow, everything is their fault, no matter what they do. Blacks, who are statistically less wealthy and live in more isolated communities, are by default lazy, deadbeat dads, improvident and what not. You know,”Where are the fathers?” Jews, who are wealthy, family-oriented, and community-organized, are by default cunning, corrupt, conspiratorial, treacherous, etc. Immigrants who are looking for nothing more than finding a better life for their kids, are by default here only to take advantage of welfare, or do voting fraud, or are trying to subvert the political system, etc. It is always those that are different, and always the minorities. You never hear ethnic majorities entertain similar stereotypes about the majorities themselves; they are always honest, sincerely naive, faithful, entrepreneurial, minding their own business, never envious or wanting other people’s money, never using welfare . . . you know the routine. It is always these smaller groups that are the rascals and the scoundrels. That was the case when I grew up in Bulgaria” us the Bulgarian ethnic majority were always the good guys, and you could never trust the rest. Same here in America: Us white Anglo-Saxon-Scottish-Irish good, them Asians, Blacks, Pollacks, Italians, Greeks and whatever other minority you pick, bad. And in the midts of all this, we have people who write public declarations to”All the Conquered Peoples,” just suck it up, we are more powerful. And then the same people complain of immigration, because it is”invasion” and it turns them into a “conquered people.” Etc.
The religion of power is not limited to the political or social realm, though. We have been practicing it in our families as well. Recently, I suggested on Facebook that in the Kingdom of God, true authority is not defined by nor based on ontology or on institutional power but on service. That, at least, should be a given among Christians, and especially among Reformed and Reconstructionist Christians, that dominion is through service; what could be more obvious than that? And yet, the proposition raised a storm of indignation among a number of Christians and church-goers:”Are you saying that our women should rule over us, in the family and in the church?” I, of course, never suggested anything about rule or institutional power; my arguments have always been about”authority” as a spirutual reality independent of any kind of power, physical or institutional. In my article,”Modern Presbyterianism and the Destruction of the Princople of Plurality of Elders,” I wrote clearly of the difference between power and authority, and said that ordination does not confer authority, it only grants institutional power. And yet, the institinctive reaction of so many Christians was not to think of terms of service but in terms of who has the power to force others to submit. The rise of patriarchalism in the last two decades, especially in Reformed circles, is another evidence of the religion of power: behind the pious rhetoric, the final appeal is to power and submission, not to service and ethics. Service and ethics are only a secondary product of the basic frame of power relationships in the family. The same applies to ecclesiology: the church is defined not by public profession of faith, as it is in the Westminster Confession, but by its power structure. And that even against the constitutions of most modern Presbyterian denominations which explicitly declare that chuch government is not necessary for the existence of the church. And yet, modern churchmen routinely declare those professing Christians who are not subject to the same power structures as they have set up as”not belonging to the church.” (Ironically, the modern Reformed have adopted the Roman Catholic notion of the”mother church.”) Most of the practices and teachings in the modern churches do not differ in ethics than the legislation of the modern socialist state: they are all focused on how the ordinary church members are supposed to treat the ecclesiastical elite. It is not surprising that in this ecclesiastical context abuse” and especially sexual abuse” thrives. A power religion will always seek to find excuses for the powerful, and in sexual abuse there is always a powerful side and a powerless side. In that rape case at John MacArthur’s university, it was predictable that the victim would be required to withdraw her accusation against the rapist: he was on the staff, that is, one of the elite, and she was was nobody. The men in power are always to be protected, and those least ones are always to be sacrificed for the plans and purposes of those in power. At every level in our society, we pay lip service to Christianity and to its ethics; but in reality, in almost everything we do or believe or speak, we are subject to a religion of power. Power is always what attracts us, power is always what makes bow down, and while seeking solutions to the problems of our society, we always resort to the question: Who rules and who submits? We very seldom ask the question,”What kind of ethics, and what kind of service resolves the real problems in our society?”
So, what is the antithesis? What is the Biblical view of the fundamental ethics of the Kingdom of God? As Christians, what will separate us from the world, what will show the world that we bring a completely different faith, one that turns the world upside down?
Recently, the 22-year-old daughter of a dear friend of mine passed away, after fighting two major illnesses for years. She went through a ton of trials and tribulations and disappointments in her earthly life, but to the last minute, she kept her faith in Christ. At the memorial worship service, her father, while giving his testimony of her life, said this: “At any party, she would find and befriend the greatest losers, the misfits of the party. And she would treat them as if they were the kings of queens of the party.” Amazingly, she herself was a strong and powerful personality; she could be the heart and soul of any party if she wanted. And yet, she used her power to uplift and encourage and entertain the least.
This kind of behavior always feels insticntively good to us, but we seldom stop to think why it is good. The answer is: it is good because that’s the Biblical approach to practical ethics. Contrary to many sermons and practices in the churches today” especially in the so-called “Reformed” churches at the heart of Christianity is not how we treat the powerful of the day. At the heart of our faith and religion is how we treat the least among us. In fact, when Jesus described in detail how the Final Judgment would look like, that’s exactly what He said about the criteria for judgment. A full quote of His words is worth our time:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right,”Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.””Then the righteous will answer Him,”Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?”And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?”When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?””The King will answer and say to them,”Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
“Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.””Then they themselves also will answer,”Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” “Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.””These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:31-46)
Very clearly, Jesus establishes a contrast between the power religions of His day, and the care for the”the least of these.” In His Kingdom, and at His Final Judgment, the hierarchy of values is flipped upside down: the most important people in the society are the least of these, not the greatest of these. In the Old Testament, the Law was specifically concerned with three categories: the orphan, the widow, and the stranger” being the weakest members of the society. There was a special protection in the law for poor people, and even special privileges for them in the case of taking loans” charity loans were under a special heading. God warned the Israelites against oppression many times:”if the stranger, or the orphan, or the widow cry to Me because of your oppression, I will hear them, and I will make your children orphans and your wife a widow.” God didn’t believe in impartial justice. His justice was very specificaly partial, and it was skewed in favor of the weakest members of the society.
The apostle James repeated Jesus’ principle about who the most important people are in Christianity:”Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). And Jesus Himself declared multiple times that the world of power structures and submission is the world of the pagans. As far as Christians are concerned, their world will have to be based on service, not on power, and not on obsession with authority (Luke 22:25-26). In the final account, our service to the lowest among us will determine the strength of our faith. That is where true Christianity is.
So when you are powerful in any area, your power must be spent on helping the least of these. If you do not spend at least part of it there, you better not exercise it for anything else, for you would be surely wasting it.
To return to the question asked at the beginning: “Is it immoral to refuse to tip bad service?”
The answer is: No, it isn’t. What is immoral, however, is your obsession with how people serve you. What is immoral is your obsession with power and submission, and your desire (often subconscious) to boss and moralize upon those less powerful and les fortunate than you, while you excuse lying politicians and brutal cops. It is true that, from time to time, there will be a lazy or immoral waiter who would just mess up everything because he doesn’t care. But in all the cases where you treat someone perceivably lower than you on the social ladder, your treatment of them is being recorded. And will be played back to you in that final court. Looking back, I personally have a lot to cover me under a thick blanket of shame and guilt. I am sure everyone of us does, given that we have been under the influence of the previling power religions. It is time for this to change, and the change to start from our own behavior. Because if we don’t get this ultimate question right, we won’t get anything else right.
The book I will assign for reading this week is Truth and Transformation, by Vishal Mangalwadi. You know the author already. If you don’t, he was born in India, and he converted. He knows the Indian culture to minutest detail, and he knows the West that was shaped by Christianity. And Mangalwadi knows exactly how our world was shaped by the Bible, and what needs to be done to repair it.
In your prayers and giving, consider Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission organization devoted to building the intellectual foundation for the future Christian civilization in Eastern Europe. Part of what we do is serve the least of these in Bulgaria. And we try to serve them Biblically. To find out about our service to the least of these in Bulgaria, visit BulgarianReformation.com and subscribe to our newsletter. You may learn quite a few interesting things about our view of missions. God bless y’all.