Graduation season is upon us. Many saints will be leaving a familiar environment of the full-time training or college to start a new phase of life.
A common concern for saints starting a job or graduate school program is how to relate to their new colleagues or classmates. Some may simply be worried about the negative influence of worldly peers. Others may have an aspiration to contact others for the sake of the gospel, but feel uncertain about doing so with close, long-term acquaintances. Yet others may feel limited by professional regulations or academic mores regarding overt gospel preaching.
How then can a graduate student or working believer be in the world, but not of the world? (John 17:11, 16) What attitude or view should one carry into these new environments?
We find some help in an unexpected portion of the Word: the four faces of the living creatures in Ezekiel:
“And from the midst of it there came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces…As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and the four of them had the face of a lion on the right side, and the four of them had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four of them had the face of an eagle.” – Ezekiel 1:5-6a, 10
In verse 5, the four living creatures bear the appearance of a man. This matches the appearance of the One on the throne above the living creatures: “…upon the likeness of the throne was One in appearance like a man” (v.26). The significance of this awesome scene is deep: the expression of the Lord Jesus, the One on the throne, is manifested in His fine humanity. Likewise, as the four living creatures, we believers express God as a man.
God needs and uses our uplifted, transformed humanity for His expression. The more we advance in the Christian life and in God’s organic salvation, the more properly human we become. People who contact us do not touch a strangely spiritual, otherworldly, angelic being; rather they see an expression of the genuine, normal, fine, balanced humanity of Jesus.
Face of a Man – The primary face of each of the four living creatures is that of a man. This typifies the Lord’s normal human life as seen throughout the Gospels. On one hand He performed miracles, on the other hand He was so ordinary that people wondered, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. 13:55).
At work, at school, or in our neighborhood, we too need to have the face of a man. Our conduct, speech and expression should all be authentically human, though not through our natural humanity, but by the humanity of the Lord Jesus.
“We need to realize, therefore, that we should be ordinary, that is, we should be the same as common, ordinary human beings. Although we pray, read the Bible, attend the meetings, and serve God, our appearance is still the appearance of a man, and our face is the face of a man. In our dress we are proper, but we are ordinary, not peculiar or eccentric.” – Life Study of Ezekiel, p.52
Face of a Lion – As king of the animals, the lion signifies reigning, victory, boldness, strength, and vigor. To have the face of a lion is to aggressively stand against anything sinful or worldly.
“If in the office you are a proper man, others will be drawn to you. However, those who are drawn to you may be “germs” that can corrupt you. Because they like you, they may invite you to participate with them in a certain kind of worldly amusement. At such a time you should behave not like a man but like a lion.” – Life Study of Ezekiel, p.53
Though tender and lowly in His humanity, the Lord also expressed the face of the lion at the appropriate times. Whether it was driving the money changers out of the temple (John 2), or lambasting the scribes and Pharisees as “Serpents! Brood of vipers!” (Matt. 23:33) the Lord was truly the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). When it comes to Satan, sin, and the world, we also should live and express Christ as the bold, kingly lion.
Face of an Ox – The lion’s face on the right side is counter-balanced by the ox’s face on the left. The ox is a beast of burden, willing to serve, work, and sacrifice for others. This is the Lord’s Slave-Savior life in us, as seen in the book of Mark. The Lord Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others by giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
“If as you are working in an office you are a proper man, you are as bold as a lion, and you are also faithful in bearing responsibility, you will make a good impression on others. In order to make such an impression, you need to behave not only like a man and like a lion but also like a serving, suffering ox. When the office needs to be cleaned, you should take the lead to clean, doing more than the other employees.” – Life Study of Ezekiel, p.54
Our living at work or school can itself be a gospel preaching if we would exhibit the faces of a man, of a lion, and of an ox.
Face of an Eagle – Throughout the Bible, the eagle signifies the soaring, transcendent, powerful divine life of God.
This fourth face, the face of an eagle, is hidden in the rear. In a sense the eagle’s face is a secret, a mystery to those around us. This was Paul’s secret of sufficiency in Philippians 4:11-12. Perhaps few people may know how we can overcome so many earthly frustrations. But the buoyancy and transcendence is not of ourselves; it is sourced in the hidden divine life within us.
“We need to be like an eagle, not allowing anything to hold us, to suppress us, or to depress us. This means that we should be able to overcome both persecution and praise…Whether we are persecuted or praised, we need to be able to fly away on eagles’ wings. We should be buoyant and transcendent.” – Life Study of Ezekiel, pp.54-55
The Lord was not suppressed by either persecution or praise. Although the Lord fed the great crowd in John 6, He immediately withdrew to a mountain alone when the people sought to exalt Him and make Him King. This was a manifestation of the face of an eagle, soaring above both tribulations and triumphs.
Summary – The four living creatures in Ezekiel express Christ in four aspects: as a man, as a lion, as an ox, and as an eagle. Moreover, these four faces correspond to Christ portrayed in the Gospels: the Man-Savior in Luke, the King-Savior in Matthew, the Slave-Savior in Mark, and God the Savior in John. As the four living creatures, we can express Christ in His all-inclusiveness.
However, in practice, living out Christ in these four aspects is not trivial. Bearing these four faces is not an exercise of merely adapting our behavior to meet certain situations. Rather, to express Christ in these aspects requires our cooperation to allow the cross to terminate everything we are, everything we have, everything we have attained, and everything we can do. Only through these dealings, and by taking Christ as our life (Col. 3:4) can we become the corporate reproduction of Christ to express Him.
Lord Jesus, grant us Your expression at work and at school! Give us the experiences we need to be genuinely human, bold as a lion, servile as an ox, and transcendent as an eagle!