Is the Bubble Biblical?
During these next two weeks, the MLB, NBA, and NHL will re-launch their respective sport leagues using a bubble environment in an effort to salvage their seasons. The idea is to protect themselves through isolation from the world around them. They will do this by severely limiting or even completely cutting off contact from the outside world. This strategy actually has a decent chance of working. (I hope it does anyway, because I can only handle so much of ESPN commentating on Tom Brady’s social media posts or Russell Westbrook’s wardrobe.) Bubbles are great for pandemics, but terrible for kingdom living.
The sad reality is that many Christians in America easily fall into a Christian bubble. We tend to isolate ourselves and create our own subculture, only socializing with people who love Jesus like us. Don’t get me wrong—we should delight in Christian community, because it is a wonderful blessing and necessity for the life of any Jesus-follower. The problem is when Christian community becomes our only community. The kingdom of God naturally has an expansive essence to it, but how is that possible within a bubble when it can only expand to the bubble’s limits?
John 1:14 is one of the most incredible verses in the Bible. It reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God is the great missionary of the Scriptures. Missiologists often talk about the missio Dei, or the “mission of God.” What is God’s ultimate mission? To be glorified and exalted, specifically through the redemption of his people. He is worthy of all glory and thus worthy of that mission. In fact, the word mission comes from a Latin word missio, which means “to send.” The Lord is both the sending one and the one sent. Why was Jesus sent? Ultimately to display the incredible glory of God and to glorify him through enacting his redemptive plan of salvation for mankind. That is why the mention of the glory of the Lord is so important to this verse. More than anything, God’s glory should drive our motives.
We also see the missionary heart of God here because it says that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us. Quite literally, the original Greek in this verse says that he “tabernacled” among us. To the original Jewish believers who would be hearing this, this would bring to mind images of the ancient Tabernacle of the Lord when Israel was wandering through the wilderness in the book of Exodus. The Tabernacle was a place where the manifest presence of God dwelt among his people. They would literally set up the Tabernacle, then build camp for the Israelites all around it so that the Lord was in the center of his people. This verse is saying that Jesus, being God in flesh, lived among people. The Creator God became creation to live among his creation and ultimately to die at the hands of his creation to save his creation. You cannot possibly be more missional than that! Oh, how he loves us!
Jesus exhibited incarnational ministry. The word incarnational literally means “in the flesh,” signifying that Jesus lived and walked among people. He did life with others to show and tell them the gospel. There was absolutely no bubble. God loved us so much that he broke through the divine-human divide and sent Jesus as a human to live among humanity and point them to the Savior, namely, himself. If we are going to follow in the missional footsteps of Jesus, we MUST be incarnational and live among people who do not know Jesus and point them to him. This means spending time with people who do not yet trust in Jesus.
The goal, though, is an ongoing relationship, not merely a gospel presentation. People are not conversion trophies to put on our mantle. You cannot make genuine friendships with an agenda, so do not do a “bait and switch” approach by developing friendships with strings attached. You can have friendships with the ultimate motive, but without ulterior motives. What’s the difference? Tim Challies says it best, “The ultimate motive in engaging your neighbors is to share the gospel with them and to see them turn to the Lord, but we must never do this through ulterior motives. Too many Christians use engaging their neighbors as a thinly-veiled guise to try to ‘win them’ and give up when the neighbors do not respond positively.”
John 1:14 also says that Jesus was full of grace and truth. God meets us where we are, which is grace, but he loves us too much to leave us there, which is truth. We need to love people enough to show them the love of Christ with our lives, but we also need to love them enough to tell them the difficult truths that can save them. Thus, John 1:14 gives us a great missional blueprint, namely, be incarnational and live in grace and truth.
At Bethel, our mission strategy is Pray – Send – Go. We can all pray for those who do not yet know Jesus. We can become better equipped and trained to engage others around us. We can give resources locally and globally to make that happen. And we can go and make disciples of our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, friends, etc. There are many ways you can minister to your neighbors in this difficult season, which include:
Be creative and proactive. The idea is to do things that get you outside your bubble and rubbing elbows (literally since we cannot shake hands) with people who do not know Jesus.
I love this poignant quote from Charles Spurgeon, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” The gospel was never meant to be concealed. It is expressed to others through words and shown through lifestyles. We were not meant to live Benedictine monastic cloistered lives. The Christian bubble will never make new disciples. Do not be influenced by the world, but do not be insulated from the world. Perhaps it is time to burst the bubble!