II Corinthians 3:3- “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
God intended for the Gospel to be communicated directly from person to person, that is, through relationship. The thread which is woven throughout the story of God’s redemption of His once perfect creation is relationship—is love. God originally made man as the pinnacle of His creation, but His work wasn’t truly finished until He had made the man a corresponding helper, a woman, so that he would not be alone (Genesis 2:18). From God’s insistence that the first man have a companion, it is clear that human beings are wired for relationship, not only with Him, but with each other. It was fitting for a three-in-one God, existing in perfect, self-sufficient intimacy, to make creatures in His own Image (Genesis 1:27) who would worship Him and reflect His character not as individuals only, but together.
As a result of the fall, the relationship between the man and the woman, as well as the relationship between mankind and God, was severed. But to restore the intimacy among humanity as well as to reconcile them to Himself, God sent His Son—a person, another man—to earth. Jesus was called “Emmanuel” which literally means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The analogies used in Scripture to explain the beautiful healing of God’s relationship with His image-bearers are relational. Through our adoption and acceptance into God’s family we call Him “Father” and are considered “brothers” of His only begotten Son (Romans 8:14-17). The Bible refers to those who have believed in Jesus as having been reborn as Spiritual kin and as the “Bride of Christ” for whom he is returning to complete his redemptive work in the future (Revelation 21:9).
The New Testament writers recognized the utmost importance of deep community and pure interpersonal relationships as a means of representing the character of a God who is Love. The apostle Paul exhorted believers constantly to put away jealousy, sexual immorality, covetousness, malice, slander, anger, wrath, etc.— sins which are so grave because they divide the essential unity of the “Body of Christ.” He urged them, instead, above all things, to love (Colossians 3:1-14). And John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, wrote “anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love (I John 4:8).”
As Christians we are not encouraged to squish ourselves into some kind of universal mold, but to pursue a unity in diversity for our community that represents our multi-faceted, creative, and sovereign God. David affirms that each person is uniquely designed and purposed by our Creator in Psalm 139—“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them (vs. 13, 15, and 16).” Furthermore, Christians are given Spiritual gifts that combine with our natural abilities to equip us to fulfill the special call of God on each of our lives. The apostle Paul in Romans 12 says of the church, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us… (Vs. 4-6).”
All Christians are united in one “body” (Ephesians 4:4-6) and by Christ’s command to proclaim the Gospel into the whole world (Matthew 28:19); but each believer’s testimony while following a general pattern of redemption, will have specific details and forms of expression, making it an individual and powerful resource in proclaiming the Good News of our Savior. Musicians might compose songs proclaiming Christ’s beauty, authors might write books narrating his grace, artists might illustrate his joy on canvas, film-makers might script his mercy into an epic climax scene, engineers might display his sovereignty in blueprints for a massive skyscraper, public speakers might communicate his truth in powerful messages…the bottom line, however, is that it is the people behind each of these creations that give the arts their meaning.
God, Himself, is the original and perfect model of this pattern. The epitome of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind was the sending of His Son to earth (Hebrews 1:1, 2). Jesus told stories, preached, gave object lessons, performed miracles, and did carpentry, but it was through himself, his relationships, and ultimately his sacrifice for mankind, that his message of hope was conveyed. His stories or miracles or sermons, on their own, could have saved no one. A problem comes in when Christians make our art an end in itself—when we expect our songs, books, paintings, movies, etc. to carry the Gospel to the world for us. True, there is “good art” and “bad art,” just as there is Truth and non-truth, and it is the Christian’s responsibility as an ambassador for Christ to pursue excellence in his/her particular craft, and to communicate a true message as clearly as possible through the medium he/she chooses. The right usage of our talents has more to do with our hearts– are our motives for creating purely for God’s glory or rooted in arrogance? Are the intentions in our expression for the glory of God and the good of others or for selfish gain? We are called to “steward” the abilities and resources God has given us in fear of and obedience to Him (Ecclesiastes 12:13), not to make gods of any of it, and certainly not to make gods of ourselves through what we do.
No believer, then, is solely a “writer” a “carpenter” or an “athlete,” but rather “a follower of Christ who writes,” “a son of God who works with his hands,” or “a daughter of the King who plays a sport.” We make gods of ourselves and of our gifts when we attempt to define ourselves by what we do rather than who we are in Christ. We make gods of each other and of others’ artistic works when we begin to worship our brothers and sisters as celebrities and to hoard their art as riches, rather than celebrating God’s work in their hearts and treasuring the Gospel their art contains.
Everything we do or create should be but a means of expressing our love for God—our devotion to Him should completely control us (II Corinthians 5:13-15). Jesus didn’t say people would know his disciples by the paintings they collected or produced, the songs they knew by heart or amassed in their itunes libraries, the plays they directed or who their favorite authors were but ultimately, by the fact that they had love for one another (John 13:35). Reiterating the definitive purpose of man established by God in the Garden of Eden, Jesus stated that the greatest commandments, the ones on which the entire law and all the prophets depended, were to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:37-40).
Relationships are messy and hard. Other people can bring out sides of ourselves we would rather not acknowledge; our interactions with others can reveal bitterness and hurt in our hearts that we would rather suppress than deal with. Intimacy requires vulnerability and, in a fallen world, being open and honest with someone else often leads to hurt, shame, and fear. Jesus said that love, in its most actualized form, is the laying down of one’s life for a friend (John 15:13)—the essence of love is selfless sacrifice. Maybe Christians so often try to produce or consume media as a means to carry the Gospel, removing ourselves from the equation and allowing the technology or the art to speak for itself, because it is safer and more comfortable. There is, however, no way around Jesus’ command that we must die to ourselves in order to follow him (Luke 9:23).
We can affirm the power of all kinds of art to inform, influence, and even bring people together, but we must maintain the perspective that it is in the context of relationship that these works possess power. An ipod or a song never loved anyone; neither did a movie or a television set. Love is the power that can change an individual, or the whole world, and it is people—image-bearers of a loving God— who alone have the capacity and the responsibility to love like He does.