The Head of the Class (For This Cause part 4)

“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32)

“The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.”—Aristotle

While his Four Causes may not have originally been meant to quantify and qualify a group of people united under an ideology (Christianity is more than ideology, bear with me), Aristotle’s rules for the coming-into-being of a thing—be it a table, a chair, or a meal—fit solidly around the Body of Christ as an object in itself. In other words, there is metaphor to be found when viewing the Four Causes through the lens of Jesus.

And now we come to the end.

The fourth and “Final Cause” of Aristotle is “the object’s ultimate aim or purpose”. That which all three work together in order to see it off. Simply put, just as Jesus came for many reasons, all of which go back to His having obeyed His Father from the outset, our role as a body is the same. Any of the myriad things we do, they’re meant to be done to the glory of God. And another name for the ‘Body of Christ’ is the ‘Bride of Christ’.

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

The beautiful thing about Mary is that, in spite of all of the practical and necessary work that needed to be done, she decided to skip ahead and simply enjoy Jesus. And in the end, that is what we’ll all be doing in Heaven.

“…Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” (Revelation 21:9)

Contrary to some popular belief, Jesus did not marry prior to His crucifixion. While this might be obvious to some, the concept that Jesus desired a wife merely for the same psychosexual relational reasons as any man are spurious and ridiculous. All that aside, the worldwide church that He started is meant to unite with Him in a depth of relationship that even angels haven’t had the privilege of enjoying. (“Which things the angels desire to look into.” see 1 Peter 1:12) We get the privilege and honor of being members of Jesus’ Bride. Please don’t think this some elitist fantasy. The qualifications leveled at those in attendance are stringent and strict. Suffering. Loss. Pain. Hardship. Some of which is brought about by us, in ignorance. Life as a Christian is hardly a cakewalk in the park. We are called to share in the sufferings of Jesus, and much like the unmarried believer spoken of by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (7:35), to “attend upon the Lord without distraction”. If you fast forward to Revelation, the same is being done in Heaven: “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him.” (22:3, emphasis mine) Not sure what image crops up in your mind upon reading that, but if you consider whatever it is you’re already inclined to do here, I would say that it’s the same thing you’ll be doing there. So why not serve Jesus in that capacity now? Go to the head of the class.

“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2)

Anna saw it. She had essentially married herself to God after losing her husband early on. “And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. (Luke 2:37)

Mary, Martha’s sister saw it. So did Mary Magdalene. These women were geniuses because they superseded and surpassed all the superfluity of show and went to the head of the class. There’s more to life and love than earthly matrimony. It’s merely a metaphor for the ultimate aim of the church: to marry Jesus. That’s the “Final Cause”.

“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

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No Greater Cause (For This Cause part 3)

“Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared me.” (Hebrews 10:5)

So God sends Jesus, who in turn forms the church upon His death, resurrection and ascension. These two acts coincide with the first two of Aristotle’s “four causes”. Jesus taking bodily form being the “material cause”. The subsequent formation of His figurative “body”—the body of Christ—being the “Formal Cause”. What we’re getting at here is the actual and overarching definition of what it means to be human in this world—with reference to God. And all that that entails. Which brings us to the third cause: the Efficient Cause. I might be playing fast and loose with Aristotle here. Hear me out.

In part three, Jesus’ prayer in John, chapter 17 lists the qualities that a church should possess. Essentially oneness. Oneness with Jesus and, at the same time, oneness with His Father. “That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.” (verse 21)

But how to get from there, to a worldwide, cohesive and cogent, active Christianity? One that is “full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17)? Jesus had to show it. He had to be that “Efficient Cause”. He had to live out the perfect life, of service, rejoicing, gratitude, etc. that we would know who to look to, when living our own life in the world at large and with others. There comes a time, if you haven’t already experienced it, where all you will want to do is segregate yourself from the rest of society. I don’t mean to sound stark and harsh here, but the world is an incredibly lonely place without Jesus. But! We have Him. And we have each other. “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) That friend is Jesus. And if anyone else chooses to act along the same lines, they live out that closeness, companionship and friendship, that Jesus embodies.

John’s Gospel says something very powerful regarding the mindset Jesus had after His last supper (13:3): “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.” This is the key: He served. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) We might be inclined to think that “laying down our life” means to die for someone or for a cause, but more often than not, it means the giving up of our time and our plans and our outlook to help those whom God has placed in our path. But before we go any further, look at what Jesus knew He was in possession of when He got up to serve, to live it out. It says that “the Father had given all things into His hands” and that He knew from where He had come and to where He was going. Those three things encapsulate all our human yearnings. Jesus was willing to die for us. He was also willing to serve and to show His love in ways no one expects. The small ways of kindness and friendship and understanding and empathy. These things are worth a thousand words and they are what make up a life.

Now, our part in the “Efficient Cause” of the formation and maintenance of the body is the same as Jesus: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)

“And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:22, emphasis mine)

We, like Jesus, came from God, are going to God and (*gasp*) possess all things. So, live it out. Serve. Love. Give. I would equate this active mindset of service and caring more for others than ourselves with Aristotle’s “Efficient Cause” as applied to the Christian walk.

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Forming Up (For This Cause part 2)

I suppose there are many reasons why Jesus came. He came to die, yes. But also to rise. Can’t have one without the other: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17) And He came to serve, yes: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) He did and does all of these things for love, and because His Father asks.

“for I do always those things that please Him.” (John 8:29)

The second of Aristotle’s “Four Causes”, the “Formal Cause” states that there must be something that the thing, the “material”—that substance of which a thing is comprised and formed—is becoming. For something to come in to existence, there must be (for lack of a better term) an invisible space in which the material will take shape and fill and form into. A void waiting to be filled, so to speak. After Jesus came and left, He essentially formed the church. Starting with the twelve apostles, the body of Christ was born and it continues to this day. And our cause? It’s the same as what Jesus’ expressed to Pontius Pilate. To bear witness to the truth of who He is:

“Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” (John 18:37) See, we cannot testify to Jesus as anything less than who He said He is. And for the church, Jesus is, quite literally, that formal cause. There’s a purpose for us as individuals in our body, and a purpose for the body, as one. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 brought about the body-as-one and the Holy Spirit moved at His insistence to make it so.

Taking all of this into account, another reason that Jesus can was to form His body–us. And He lived it out to give us something to be and become.

It’s an apt analogy, to be sure, but Paul compares the body of Christ to an actual body. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many…But now are they many members, yet but one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:13, 20)

When Jesus prayed in John 17 (verse 22), “that they may be one, even as we are one”, He was essentially “forming” the future body of Christ as one. Wrap your mind around this. Aristotle’s “Formal Cause” is the template which a “thing” becomes. And Jesus made that template of oneness when He petitioned His Father to make us one. The blueprints have been drawn up, all we have to do is step in time.

You Are Here (For This Cause part 1)

Aristotle posited his “Four Causes” as a way to surround and suffuse the existence of things with categorization and subsequently, fundamental understanding. For the church in the West, it would seem some of the direction has been lost in the shuffle. John wrote “Beloved, now are we the sons (and daughters) of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2) There’s a lot to this, and John is essentially speaking of our bodily form when we arrive at Heaven. But when he says that “it doth not yet appear what we shall be“, I’m hard-pressed to even see what we as a church are now. And so, I present to you the Four Causes. Aristotle’s means of scaffolding and substantiation as filtered through the “cause of Christ”. Maybe with these qualifiers in place, we can shed a new light on the mission statement of Jesus and what it means for us. As an aside, Thomas Aquinas was nearly as devoted to Aristotelian thought as he was to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Bereft of the latter though, the former doesn’t go to the top floor.

We’re here at this moment, and in this season, and on this earth at exactly the right time. God made sure of it. And whether the stars align, or the weather’s just right, or even whether or not you’ve had the worst day of your existence recently, take heart: “all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28)

Aristotle sought to sum up the ways and means of things with his Four Causes. The first being the “Material Cause”: Fundamentally, everything is made of something. Break it down into its constituent atoms and molecules and work your way up. There is a sort-of closure when you understand these things.

The artist Paul Gauguin said: WHERE DO WE COME FROM. WHAT ARE WE. WHERE ARE WE GOING. While he didn’t place a question mark at the end of each of his three sentences, the wondering remainsuntil we’ve met Jesus.

“Doth not even nature itself teach you… (1 Corinthians 11:14a)

I think that most of modern science’s efforts at unraveling the substance of the universe is merely an effort at understanding something that, by its very nature, cannot be understood without knowing God, through Jesus. After all the questions are answered and mere “material” has been pulled apart and analyzed, where do we go from there? The stars? Love is more than a chemical reaction in the brain. True love cannot originate out of anything but God’s heart. It flowed from there, to Jesus, and through Him to us.

“for one star differeth from another star in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:41b)

Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.” (1 Corinthians 15:38-39) I cite all of that to say this: “Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” (Romans 9:20) Existence is a gift. And whatever “material” we are made of, it’s physical. This might sound odd and disjoint, but we need a container for our spirit and our soul. It’s called “our body”, and as complex and wondrous as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the complexity of the mind, the will and the emotions. let alone the spirit. Unraveling those will take eternity. A lifetime of childlikeness. Jesus said as much: “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19) We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). And whether we assent to evolution or Creation or anything in between, I think we can agree on that statement, as-is. And whereas the Christian can look at their hand or up at the stars, or under the microscope, and let flow their exuberant awe to God, someone who isn’t inclined to believe in a Creator should feel the same emotion for the mere “material”. Cause or no.

“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father glorify Thy name…” (John 12:27-28a, emphasis mine) The same could be said for us.

We are here to glorify God in this thing called our body. Man and woman alike.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present you bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)