There has been an inordinate growth of religion in Nigeria. While I have no empirical evidence, I am inclined to believe that Nigeria is one of the most religious countries in the world. Everywhere, villages and cities are studded with churches. Believers are in their churches on Wednesdays, Thursday, Fridays, and of course, Sundays. There are morning devotions, mid-night vigils, Sunday services, fellowship meetings, and one revival and crusade after another. Ostensibly, the pastors are laboring in God’s vine yard; preaching the word of God, winning souls for Christ, etc.
In addition, these men of God strive to bring the word of God into our workplaces and homes. They flood the airwaves and televisions with their messages. The TVs are filled with pastors, evangelists, apostles and bishops preaching and evangelizing. They come in different forms. Some look cultivated and cultured and others look coarse and crude. Some look sophisticated and Sauvé and others look uncouth and unkempt. Some are erudite and elitist and, even affect American and British accents and some sound as though they can barely manage a conversation in English. In all, they all have one mission, to bring to us the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, all these sermonizing and exhortations have not in any way improved the Nigerian society. It has neither elevated our social ethics nor enhanced our moral standards. Why are these pastors working so hard to teach us the doctrine of Jesus Christ which is based on love, humility, compassion, lawfulness, etc but our society remains full of hate, arrogance, cruelty, lawlessness, etc? In spite of all the preaching, why are the churches still suffused with wickedness, selfishness, dishonesty, intolerance and other attributes that the Bible repeatedly stated are not Christ-like, and therefore, should not exist among Christians?
This is because the lives of these preachers do not always exemplify what they preach; they are yet to lead their flock by example. They are yet to demonstrate that only law of Jesus Christ (which is love) in their thought, words and deeds. They left the central theme of the gospel and dwelt on secondary issues, and sometimes trivial issues.
The Christianity faith is grounded on the Bible, a composite of the Old and the New Testaments. The laws of the Old Testament as given by Moses and the laws of the New Testament as given by Jesus Christ are essentially the same laws stated in two different ways.
The Ten Commandments set rules to regulate our relationship with God and man. Jesus Christ gave us only two laws established on love: love God with all your mind and heart and love your neighbor as yourself. This law of love transcends every other law. If you love God with all your heart and mind, you will invariably uphold the laws of Moses as they concern your relationship with God. Secondly, if you love your neighbor as yourself, you will not murder him, or do to him anything that the laws of Moses forbid. Therefore the laws of Jesus Christ are both the encapsulation and refinement of the laws of Moses.
Jesus Christ did not only preach love, his life personified and exemplified it. At Calvary, he dramatized his unconditional love; he prayed for the forgiveness of those who humiliated and crucified him. The essence of Christianity is love for others. All the exegeses, analysis and homiletics of the gospel are secondary and sometimes unimportant factors. They are only relevant to the extent they teach us how to love one another. St Paul made the same point in 1Corinthians Chapter 13 when he wrote that of all the attributes of Christianity, love is the greatest. And that without love everything else we do with our Christian life profits us nothing. The first epistle of John Chapter 4 verse 7 and 8, wrote “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love”
It is not possible to love God without loving man. We can only love God by loving our fellow human beings. Jesus Christ made that point in Matthew 25 verse 34 to 40, “Then shall the King say…Come you bless of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you…For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave drink: Naked, and ye clothe me…”And the righteous will ask “Lord, when saw we thee hungry and fed thee, thirsty, and gave thee drink, or naked and clothe thee?” And the King shall answer, inasmuch as ye have done it unto any of my brethren; ye have done it unto me”.
That is, as we respect man, we are respecting God; as we care for man, we are caring for God; and as we love man, we love God. There is absolutely nothing we can do for God. God does not need our money. Our praises are wonderful but can neither substitute nor compare with the praises emanating from the millions of angels whose duty is to praise and worship God continually. The best we can therefore do for God is to respect, care and love man.
It will be interesting to imagine how magnificent the Nigerian society will become when the lives of Christians led by their pastors are governed by love for others, loving their neighbors as themselves. There will be an automatic transformation of the society, as we will seize to be lawlessness, wicked, selfish, rude and intolerant in our dealings with others. And there will be no more falsehood, theft, murder, or any act of wickedness or violence, by Christians. Nigeria will be so reformed to the point that all these endless preaching by these men of God will be rendered redundant.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of example is worth more than a ton of precepts”. We have been inundated for years with Christian precepts by these pastors and bishops. It is high time they started setting us examples by their own Christ-like ways of life. They will do this country a lot of good if they just endeavor to live in accordance to that transcendental law of Jesus Christ, “love your neighbor as thyself”. Let them live it in their thinking, actions and utterances. And that will be much more effective in making Nigeria a better place to live in than all their sermons, oration and histrionics.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria