One realization I have of myself is how I have always held tremendous value for the work ethic my parents instilled within me.
It was a work ethic that rewarded performance. A ethic of personal commitment to excellence that was expressed by out-performing others – winning.
So you may be able to imagine how a study through the Book of Acts created levels of cognitive dissonance for me. In particular with portions that revealed clearly how God intended the disciples of Jesus Christ to live in community. More specifically, for the intent purpose to draw pagans and non-believers become a part of His redemptive family through faith in Christ.
Not that my appreciation for a sound and robust work ethic was diminished in light of a Biblical appraisal of the first century Church’s presence and life of reciprocity through a communal devotion towards one another. Rather, it was the conflict which arose in my motivations for acquiring such a work ethic. What I once thought validated my efforts began to become unraveled at the core of my identity – found now in Christ.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” ACTS 4:32
Like any one other American citizen of my generation, the idea of this form of lifestyle generated a dissonance simply based upon my capitalistic worldview and the stigma of socialism, communism, laziness, welfare-babies, and every other negative connotation this historical and social-construct was impregnated with.
The revelation which delivered me from this disquieting labor was something I read in The Drama of Scripture; Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen © 2004. Their description opened me to a more sanguine appropriation of how Christ desires me and other Christians to live in community with one another, amidst an ever dismissive and doubting world.
A world that is growing in a deeper loyalty to a philosophy of life – that in many ways is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus Christ – especially when it comes to how we distribute or share resources and property.
“The apostolic witness depends on a community that verifies the truth of the gospel with its winsome lifestyle.”
I admit, at first I held the wrong idea of what this word meant. I thought it was more aligned to the idea of being carefree. And it has sort of morphed into that meaning by most who use it. But the true sense of the word is more joined with what a carefree life usually incites in someone.
Winsome is primarily an adjective that describes someone as attractive or appealing in appearance or character. It originates from two Old English words which make the word wynsum – wyn ‘joy’ + sum ‘some’. So we can see how the idea of carefree becomes sort of a default – because wouldn’t that be appealing to you and I?
For me, this revealed a hidden aspect as to the demeanor of these early Christians. It peeled back a previously shrouded layer of interpretative content that helped me to realign the tension I had first discovered at age 14 – when trying to tell a elderly woman how much money she should pay me for re-carpeting her day-room. I loved her dearly and she was a old dear friend of my parents.
There had always been, as long as I can remember, a tension which resided within my desires for excellence and performance. I could never seem to mitigate this cognitive unease with how I engaged in my relationships with others.
I knew I was expected to excel, perform and ‘win’. But how could I do that while retaining healthy relationships along the way. Losers never stuck around afterwards, except for a re-match.
In this passage of scripture we see Holy Spirit creating and cultivating a new form of community. Although it appeared on the surface as similar to the ancient Pythagoreans and Stoics and Epicureans; which were common proponents of philosophies of the then present day hellenistic culture; this new community known by the term ekklesia or ‘called out ones’ operated with a totally different ethic for life amidst the larger community.
This community described by Luke in ACTS 2, 4, and 5 were winsome or appealing to the larger culture because of how they interacted with one another. They were devoted to the teachings of their apostolic leaders. They were devoted to sharing meals together (primarily due to the fact that by becoming Christians they would no longer desire to, or be welcomed at the feasts which were devoted to pagan gods and guilds, which they formerly belonged). They shared in group activities by fellowshipping together, and they came together to pray for one another frequently.
This community also exhibited the very life Jesus Christ personally displayed when here on earth. They demonstrated mercy and forgiveness towards one another when friction or conflict arose. They didn’t seek out Roman or Jewish justice, but relied upon Holy Spirit and the community to bring reconciliation and restore relationships. They saw healings and deliverances from demonic spirits occur in their community.
It was these two dynamics just mentioned, devotion and exhibition of Holy Spirit manifesting Jesus Christ’s love, power and provision among them that stimulated this winsome effect upon the greater hellenistic pagan culture.
People could see and sense the evidence of how they loved one another. People were drawn to this visible and easily experienced dependence upon Holy Spirit as He moved within their hearts and minds towards one another.
It was not the evangelical efforts of one or two preachers. It was the way they ‘loved one another” as Jesus had predicted it would be while He walked with and taught His disciples.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.“ John 13:34-35
May we become a winsome people; a people who depend upon God for every area of our lives; living uncorrupted by the philosophies of this self-serving generation…
- seeking only personal gain
- striving to maintain false, pretentious images of who we think others need us to be
- strategically ignoring the plight of others in hope to reject the dissonance which is created whenever Holy Spirit attempts to fill our hearts with His heavenly grace
Trust completely upon His faithfulness through Holy Spirit’s presence in your thoughts, emotions and intentional will to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10) – and we will surely experience the much sought after community we read about and yearn for – the kingdom of God among us.
Winsome….is how God always intended to win some?
God’s peace and Good journey!
ΑΩ~ Reverend A. David Griffin, M.Div.