Vintage Reconciliation: The Supererogative Christian Life

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God; all the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

When I survey the Wondrous Cross
Isaac Watts 1707

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SUPEREROG’ATORY, a. Performed to an extent not enjoined or not required by duty; as supererogatory services.

A Japanese Christian widow was surprised one night by a robber in her home. Upon startling him, she took notice of how hungry he looked, he was obviously starving. So, she calmed him and prepared him a meal. After the man had finished, she handed him the keys to her home. By this act of normal Christianity, he became a believer.

Normal Christianity is not what we would consider to be normal today at all. How a truly normal Christian conducts their self will always be considered to be supererogation by abnormal Christians and the world. We must ask ourselves what can rightfully be considered to be supererogatory as it applies to the Christian life? As we look at who we are and how we conduct ourselves in this world, what is “normal” Christian behavior and what is above and beyond the call of duty?

A recent report concluded that the average Christian gives 2.3% of his or her income to the church. Based on those numbers, giving 10% would be supererogative to today’s average Christian.

Most of us spend our week working a job, taking kids to sports, shopping for groceries and watching television. For these people, going to church twice in a week might be supererogative.

We attend high school, college and amass huge amounts of debt in order that we can pursue the career of our choice. Once there, we try to succeed as much as we can in order to provide for our children and retire comfortably.

For these average Christians today, throwing all of that aside to become a Missionary would certainly be considered to be supererogative.

What about witnessing your faith? Selling your extra to give to the poor? Selling all you have to do the same?

Praying for an hour a day? A half hour? Praying at all?

Cleaning the church? Cleaning the church alone and telling no one that it was you?

Would these things seem supererogative to you?

What did Jim Elliot, the famous Missionary to Ecuador consider to be supererogation? He claimed that “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep for that which he cannot lose”. He later proved that as he was martyred by the Auca Indians on the banks of a river in the jungle.

And what of Elisabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife? What did she consider to be supererogative? After her husbands death, Mrs. Elliot remained among the Indians that murdered her husband in order to win them to Christ.

For Christians, in our service to man, there can only be supererogation. Supererogation is the normal Christian life, everything that falls short of that is flesh, natural and human. We must continually go above and beyond the call of duty in our living example of Christ’s great love and sacrifice.

Watchman Nee relates a story of an event that he witnessed in his native China.

“A brother in South China had a rice field in the middle of a hill.In time of drought he used a waterwheel, worked by a treadmill, to lift water from the irrigation stream into his field. His neighbor had two fields below his, and one night he made a breach in the dividing bank and drained off all his water.

When the brother repaired the breach and pumped in more water his neighbor did the same thing again, and this happened three or four times.

So he consulted his brethren. “I have tried to be patient and not to retaliate, ” he said, “but is it right?” After they had prayed about it, one of them observed, “If we only try to do the right thing, surely we are very poor Christians. We have to do something more than what is right.”

The brother was much impressed. The next morning, he pumped water for the two fields below, and in the afternoon, pumped water for his own field.

After that, the water stayed in his field. His neighbor was so amazed at his action that he began to inquire the reason, until in due course he too found Christ.”

As Believers, we must never simply ask, “what is right?” Instead we must ask “What is Christ-like?” For in His earthly life, Christ never did what was required only, he did as His Father wished. His question never seemed to be, “what is right in this situation?” but rather, “what is like my Father?”

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan did not just stop to check on the man who was robbed and beaten, did he? No, he stopped and bound his wounds with oil and wine. Surely, that was doing right, wasn’t it?

But he did not stop there. He then, placed the poor man upon his own beast and he took him to an Inn. Certainly, he had now done right and could walk away satisfied.

But instead of being satisfied with what he had done, after doing all of this, he then handed the Innkeeper two days wages for the care of the man he had rescued. Any one of us would very possibly never go to such lengths in our service to a stranger. And yet, this Samaritan was not quite done.

He proceeded to instruct the Innkeeper that whatever costs he incurred, above and beyond (supererogare) what I have given you already, I will repay when I return. This is the standard of our service to the world. And this is the example that Christ himself gave us in showing the great love of God towards mankind.

The world themselves operate in a basic understanding of simple right and wrong. When disaster strikes, they will begin to deploy aid, raise money and give generously to the cause. They will defend those who are wronged and champion the downtrodden. But simply spending yourself in a just cause and doing right is not a Christian trait.

Over-spending yourself until the world can see the Imago Dei, the image of Christ in your lavish sacrifice of all you are and all you have, that is a Christian trait.

Seeing this then, that all of our dealings with each other and the world must be supererogative, what then can be considered to be supererogative in regards to our service to God? What is enough service, enough sacrifice, enough suffering, enough self-denial? Can you go beyond the call of duty in regards to your service to God?

There can be no such thing, friend.

As it relates to our service to God, there can be no supererogation.

No price, no sacrifice, no struggle can ever be considered above and beyond the call of duty until your sacrifice surpasses that of Christ’s towards you.

“Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small; love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.”

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