Privilege is a reality that is hard to deny in light of our current global crisis. This privilege, in Africa, is mostly the result of social constructs, many of which are derived from historical injustices. We see privilege based on gender, race, economic and social position, levels of education, marital status, and religion. But it is what people do with their privilege that has really captured my attention recently.
I have sadly realised that human beings, myself included, use the power of privilege for personal benefit. This is also often at the expense of others. What has unsettled me even more is the obliviousness with which we go about enjoying and expressing this privilege. How much damage the lack of self awareness and conscious living causes on those who are not in the same bracket of privilege that we inhabit. Therefore Christians must learn how to have but not hold on to privilege.
How much damage the lack of self awareness and conscious living causes on those who are not in the same bracket of privilege that we inhabit
What if you Can’t #StayHome?
One of the safety measures to fight COVID-19 has been #StayHome. This sounds straightforward. Stay home unless you need to go out for essentials. But let us break it down. It assumes that we all have homes to remain in. Not just any old home but decent homes; homes that can provide reliable shelter in all weather conditions. It also assumes that we can stay home while earning a living. But not everyone has a reliable income. The truth is not everyone can afford to only go out for essential services.
Many people are poor, living hand to mouth. Millions more are impoverished, living beneath the bread line. For such people staying at home may amount to a death sentence. But privilege blindly insists: ‘wash your hands with soap and running water,’ ‘continue learning online,’ and ‘wear a mask.’ However, these are not an option for many.
The World Cherishes Privilege
Worldly systems can be forgiven for mastering the art of having and holding privilege. But many Christians have also tragically conformed to this script. However, Christians are exhorted not to conform to the patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we can be able to test and discern what is the will of God at any given time (Romans 12:2). The times we find ourselves in are not times to isolate the weak, poor, needy, orphan or widow. More than any other time this is a chance to pull them in (James 1:26-27).
This is not the time to master aesthetics for online sermon deliveries. It is the time to reevaluate our priorities as members of Christ’s Church. And most definitely, this is not the time to parrot the decisions of those in positions of power. This is the time to speak out, question, and call those in power to account. Let us speak truth to power.
We have been given an opportunity to show our world what it means to have but not cling to privilege
The Christian Must Emulate Christ
We have been given, on a silver platter so to speak, an opportunity to be the feet and hands of Jesus. To show to this lost, bewildered, afraid and dying world what it means to have but not cling to our privilege. We cannot afford, through silence or inaction, to support statements or decisions adversely affecting millions of people. Especially when these decisions are centred on and blinded by privilege. There is a different way. A better way. A higher way of utilising our privilege.
This way has privilege but does not hold onto it. It acknowledges privilege and uses it for common good. This way acknowledges privilege and plies it for the fame of God’s name and our eternal joy. What way is this? It is the way of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Christ surrendered his privilege
In Philippians 2:1-11 we encounter this higher way. If there was ever true privilege, not the result of fickle social constructs and historical injustices, but legitimate and infinite privilege, it was possessed eternally by the Son of God. However, being aware of that privilege he set it aside and humbled himself. The end result is that humanity gained a way back to the Father. Reconciliation between a holy God and sinful humanity became possible, once and for all. The three headings below are based on that passage in Philippians.
Do we still believe that we exist for the sole purpose of lifting Jesus up so that he can draw all men to himself?
1. Count Others more Significant than Yourselves
The first half of the verse says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3). Social media – in all its forms, shapes and sizes – has exploded during the pandemic. Creative expressions and content are being created by the millisecond. The Church has not been left behind and has also on boarded the online train in full force.
My only question is: why are we doing what we are doing? Is it to propagate our individual selves, congregations, and denominations, or to propagate the gospel? Are we fixated on self-preservation through self-promotion? Or do we still believe that we exist for the sole purpose of lifting Jesus up so that he can draw all men to himself? Are we appropriating our privilege by deeming others more significant than ourselves? Or do we think of ourselves better and more deserving than everyone else?
2. Look to the Interests of Others
How can we be practically looking out, not just for our own interests but also, for the interests of others? Here I am referring especially to the poor, widows, refugees, homeless, marginalised, oppressed and depressed, cynics and children? In Matthew 25:31-46 we find an answer: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. And let us not forget Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In every space that you occupy you are able to do justice, enact love and express kindness
In every space that you occupy as a believer you are able to do justice, enact love and express kindness. We can speak up for the voiceless. Let us remember that it is God who puts us in positions of power and influence. But he does this to shape conversations, policies and decisions in ways that glorify him and that result in good for others. We are in a season where hopelessness is rife. Confusion is immense. Therefore the need for a voice to speak hope and show the way is vitally important. Will the church, both corporately and as individual members, seize the chance to speak life and light? Or will we, like the world around us, be sucked into modes of self-preservation?
3. Have the Same Mind as Christ Jesus
Our worldly understanding of privilege works to keep us far away from troubles, pain and even death. But the way of Jesus is the way of death. He entered our world with one end goal in mind: the cross. We are told that whoever seeks to save their life will lose it but those who lose their life will keep it (Luke 17:33). It is a remarkable paradox. The holder of immortal, eternal and infinite privilege did not hold onto his privilege. He humbled himself (Philippians 2:8), taking the form of a servant and becoming like us (Philippians 2:7). He asks us to take up our cross and emulate him. Therefore let us use our privilege for others, so that:
- they may live in a dignified way
- many can live to see another day
- they may come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ
Beware of Misrepresenting Christ
How we, as followers of Jesus, utilise our privilege both during this pandemic and throughout every season of life will speak volumes to this lost world. When we choose to have and to hold onto our privilege, handling it in ways other than what Jesus modelled, we misrepresent him to a seeking world. When we choose to conform to the patterns of this world we misrepresent the will of the Father. For he loved us and sent his only Son to die for us.
When we choose to conform to the patterns of this world we misrepresent the will of the Father
Our challenge in this time, and at all times, is not that we have privilege. It is how we might have yet not hold on to that privilege. We do not do this to earn the accolades and praise of men, ironically acquiring more privilege. No. We refuse to hold onto privilege so that our God may be glorified. So that Jesus may be lifted up and draw all men to himself. In this purposeful process of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we are increasingly transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.