Some great moments…
From Justin Taylor
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15)
It’s a wonderful motto for gospel ministry. Here is the heart of all Paul does. But when he relates it, he can’t help but add his autobiography ‘…of whom I am the worst.’
Some ministries are good on the first half of the verse. That’s absolutely crucial. But in my experience, few ally this to the second half.
Does our Christian ministry seek to build the appearance of correctness, togetherness, superiority? How much is dripping in repentance and broken-hearted humility? Are we just trying to speak out of strength to poor sinners over there? Or are we beggars showing other beggars where to find Bread?
Thinking and preaching through 1 Corinthians recently, it’s so stark what a mixture the Corinthian church was. Successful and troubled. Their congregation contains former male-prostitutes, idolaters, thieves, drunkards and swindlers (6:9-11). What a work of grace to convert this lot from their dark past. As this motley bunch meet together, called saints by the Father (1:2), in fellowship with the Son (1:9), a temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16), they lack no spiritual gift (1:7). Paul always gives thanks for them (1:4). And yet they are foolish, divided, litigious, permissive, immoral, selfish, drunken and unbelieving. If your friend was moving to Corinth, would you recommend this church?
Well perhaps you wouldn’t recommend moving to Corinth full stop. Here’s a sailor town full of all sailor town vices. Here’s an overwhelmingly pagan culture that not only has no Christian memory, but never had one to begin with. Yet here Paul planted the gospel seed, Apollos watered it and God grew a church (3:6) right there in the midst of a culture about as unChristian as you could possibly imagine.
But what a reflection of the gospel that Paul proclaimed to them. Here are unwashed heathen who are now washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:11).
In line with his gospel, Paul is able to address them as dearly loved brethren and to deliver stinging rebuke. The Corinthians really are genuinely loved and they really are genuinely wrong, foolish and sinful. And the intensity of this dual reality is increased by the very success of their church.
I heard Tim Keller say in a 1 Corinthians sermon that we don’t experience the degree of trouble they did because we’re not as successful as they were. It’s the churches that really confront the culture and really grow in the midst of opposition that will produce these kinds of problems. If we don’t know these kinds of discipleship issues in our own churches it’s probably because we’re not reaching the people the Corinthians did and/or not growing or seeking to grow like them.
Of course this made me think of our friend Mark Driscoll. And how I need to be far more public in saying ‘Thank God for Driscoll’. And far more praiseworthy of the gospel ministry that seems to be happening through Mars Hill and Acts 29 .
The gospel means we are simultaneously righteous and sinner. And it means gospel communities and leaders can be critiqued and critiqued harshly (just read 1 Corinthians) without ever implying that they’re not a gospel community. No, because they’re a gospel community there will be sin (just as there is deep and dark sin in me). But there is also much to give thanks for and much to praise.
I thank God for Mark’s incredible gifts, his passion for Jesus, his gospel-focussed preaching and his mission-mindedness. Which is quite a list! I wish those things could be said of me with even a fraction of the same intensity.
On the other hand I’m very uneasy about his macho-christology, his macho-manliness, and what I perceive to be a major lack of humility. These things are problems. I happen to think they really need pointing out and cautions raised, especially given his popularity.
Now I know I have a whole bagful of my own problems. In fact if I had a hundredth the gifting and a thousandth the success of Driscoll I’d be just as proud, probably much more so.
But what I get a bit tired of is the all-or-nothing approach to Driscoll. Either he’s Satan himself, leading thousands astray, or he can do no wrong – any criticism justified immediately by his success or explained away as an understandable reaction to a wicked culture or liberal Christianity. Paul never said to the Corinthians ‘Yes you’re getting drunk at communion, but I understand your missional context and great giftedness so I’ll forget about it.’
Please, let’s believe the gospel. We are simultaneously righteous and sinner. Mars Hill can be successful and troubled. Driscoll can be loved and critiqued. And we don’t have to collapse one into the other.
His main point is that the problem is not Pooped Pastors but Pissed Pastors. (By the way Mum, by pissed he means angry – it’s an American thing).
It’s not underlying tiredness but underlying anger that’s the problem. Very interesting!
Go to theology network for the full paper on preaching. I’ll post it here in chunks. Be great to talk about it if you want to comment.
The Speaking God
Let’s begin at the beginning. Our God is the Speaking God. The eternal life of Father, Son and Spirit has ever been an out-going, communicative life. Because our God simply is Trinity there has never been such a thing as a God who then comes to speech. Arius was wrong. There is not a God who then has a Word. God’s existence does not precede His expression. Rather God’s expression, His Word, is eternally constitutive of His life. God is always and eternally the Speaking God. To encounter His Word is not to be obstructed or distanced from a divine reality behind His disclosure. Rather to receive His Word is to be drawn into the depths of His eternal reality as the Speaking God. Revelation, as the unfolding of God’s own life in Word and Spirit, is not simply what He does. It is who He is.
From the overflow of this communicative life came creation. Again, by His Word and through the Spirit, God brought all things into being (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6; John 1:1-4). The universe exists in correspondence to God’s Word. “God said… and it was.” This means that to be is to be an obedient hearer of the Word. The universe is His congregation and, derivatively, His herald (Psalm 19:1-6). Humanity, as the pinnacle of creation, is supremely called to appropriate God’s revelation. Our vocation, not simply as Christians but as creatures, is to receive the Word. And in receiving the Word we participate in the life of the Speaking God.
What is more, He comes to participate in our life. In incarnation, the Word comes not simply to man or even just in man, but as man. God’s revelation could not be louder or clearer. The Word, Jesus Christ, reveals His Father through His words and actions (e.g. John 14:5-11). Both these words and actions were committed to Him by the Father (e.g. John 5:19ff; 8:26,38; 10:37f; 15:15; 17:6,14). These words were entrusted to the disciples and these actions were witnessed and remembered by them, all through the power of the Spirit (e.g John 16:12-15). In the power of that same Spirit, these disciples proclaimed them to the world (e.g. John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8). The world’s response to this witness is their response to Christ, and their response to Christ is their response to the Father (e.g. John 14:22-26).
To put it another way, the Father Himself confronts us in the Person of His Son and the Son Himself confronts us in the Spirit-empowered words of His messengers (e.g. Matthew 10:40). From Father to Son, from Son to His bride and so out into the world the Spirit carries divine revelation.
Contemporary proclamation is not simply the remembrance of past events or the recitation of ancient words. To proclaim this Word in the power of this Spirit is to stand in a stream of revelation which both preceded and produced the universe. Our words witnessing the Word have their source and authority in the Speaking God who graciously includes us in His ongoing life of self-disclosure.
Go to theology network for my paper on preaching in full. Here I’ll post it in chunks. Be good to talk about it if you want to comment…
It is often said that the real issue in preaching is not ‘How to?’ but ‘How can?’ How can a preacher stand before a congregation and dare to speak ‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’? The ‘How can?’ is by far the more pressing question. And yet, in the textbooks, at the conferences and in preaching groups it seems the ‘How to?’ is the perennial concern. Notes or full script? Powerpoint or no? Topical sermons or lectio continua? These questions abound. Even issues like ‘how to address the heart?’ or ‘how to preach wisdom literature?’ threaten to drown out proper theological reflection. All the while the ‘How can?’ question stands above our practice demanding an answer.
Our silence on this issue could simply reflect the pragmatic spirit of our age. We want to know what ‘works’ so we can copy it. But I suggest there is a deeper problem. Fundamentally we have an impoverished theology of revelation which fails to appreciate what evangelicals from another age held dear – namely that God Himself addresses us in preaching.
Consider this classic statement of reformed faith from the Second Helvetic Confession:
“The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.”
Luther would agree:
“Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness… For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”
Or consider this from John Calvin:
“When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”
The reformers viewed preaching as God’s own word proclaimed in His name, by His power and with His authority. More to the point this is the bible’s own teaching, as we’ll see. Proclamation of the word of Christ is not simply an explanation and application of the bible. It is itself a divine encounter in which the Spirit again confronts the hearers with the omnipotent force of God’s own Word.
In the face of such an audacious claim, the ‘How to?’ must be put on hold. This paper seeks a theology of revelation that is able to address the question ‘How can a preacher dare to speak the word of the LORD?’ What is the nature of divine revelation such that this is even possible? Once we have we addressed this we will find that the ‘How to?’ has been decisively and much more faithfully shaped.
Here’s a question Rich Owen asked me. I’ve included my answer, but I thought it would be great to get your opinions too. This is the question:
To what extent does the gospel require a homogenisation of personality?
I’m thinking about bearing with one another, rebuking one another, kindness… the hard edge of graciousness and integrity… but gentleness etc. So as a simplistic example…
Person A is really very nice. Wouldn’t say boo to a goose, tends to fall in line even if reservations are bubbling in the background – thinking very positively about others, perhaps naively, so is always looking for smooth and non confrontaional paths in dealing with people. It is not always obvious what they think about things because everything is tempered with caveats because they are gentle people in every way not seeking to offend.
Person B is also very nice but is very gritty, calls a spade a spade etc. Doesn’t fall in line without having to be persuaded. Thinks very highly of others and so in love calls things pretty black and white – calls sin sin, points right at pride and invites others to be just as direct with them. They think positively about others, but analyse and challenge – likewise not seeking to offend – but knowing how pride works want to expose it directly.
These personality types are partly “considered” in that is what they want to be and think is best, but they also reflect how someone naturally is – some people are more gritty than others etc.
Anyway – that is my already unhelpfully stereotyped situation.
under those maxims of bearing with one another, etc should person B attempt to be more like person A so that person A hears them better? should person A be a bit more bullish so that there is more clarity and person B knows exactly where they are going?
does the gospel require these people to deny self in the sense that they are naturally fluffy or gritty, and as they move towards the other, modify personality to be more like each other… a homogenisation?
Here’s my answer:
I wrote a series of posts on personality, idols, repentance, gifts, service, maturity etc here, here, here and here.
Basically I think there are four elements to consider:
1) God-given temperament. The triune God loves diversity. When humans make ice we make ice cubes, when the Father makes ice He makes snowflakes and all that,
2) Idolatry which takes hold of our natural differences and creates idols that we serve and imitate (this is an all-pervasive part of ‘personality’). For instance, the world, flesh and devil take hold of a person with an above average IQ to make them worship and serve their brain, or intelligence in general, or being right or knowledgeable or whatever.
3) In Christ there is repentance for this idolatry which will mean acting against type. 2) means that a naturally sweet disposition will in some large part arise from flesh-dynamics that simply want to justify self, protect from relational pain, pursue some idol of ‘niceness’. Such a sweet person’s repentance will involve assertiveness, standing up for truth etc while the bruque person’s repentance will involve the reverse.
4) In Christ there is spiritual gifting which will very often redeem those God-given temperaments from 1). The same Spirit through Whom I was made is the Spirit who gifts me in Christ. He gifts me and gives me to the body of Christ in my distinctness to be a member of this diverse church.
1) and 4) are the pre-redemption and post-redemption celebrations of diversity. I think the last thing God wants is homogeneity. The devil through the idolatry of 2) shoves us into some very bland temperamental boxes. In this sense homogenisation is satanic. Dan Allender talks about how a woman’s flesh-dynamics lead her really only to three basic categories: good girl, party girl and tough girl. There’s a billion ways of being a woman if we live out our identity in Christ, there’s only a few very narrow ones if we don’t.
So yes broadly speaking I think repentance will look different for different people. (e.g. party girl should take responsibility, good girl should let go, tough girl should sweeten up.) But that’s not because there’s some ‘average girl’ in the middle that Christ is shepherding womankind towards! Following Christ will mean expressing our God-given, Spirit-redeemed diversity not squishing us into some homogenous mould.
Some follow-up questions to consider:
Continued from here.
Where do we draw the line though? Is Paul infinitely flexible? Just a chameleon with no integrity? No, look at those brackets in v21:
21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
Paul is not just all spin and no substance. Even when Paul enters deeply into another culture there is still something ruling Paul. He says he’s not free from God’s law but he uses a wonderful phrase to describe his relationship to Christ. He is in-lawed by Christ. Not that Christ is like the in-laws – that would not be good! But it’s the idea of Paul kind of sunk down into Christ who is Paul’s law. Christ Himself is the ruling authority in Paul’s life – Christ has en-law-ed Paul. So Paul has not just cast off every rule and authority “Hey – all things to all men – whatever man!” Instead he is ruled, he has a centre, he has integrity. It’s Jesus. It’s the Jesus who hung out with prostitutes and publicans and sinners. But it’s the Jesus who never sinned in those circumstances.
Which means Paul could never say ‘I became a drug dealer in order to win drug dealers.’ ‘I became a drug user to win drug users.’ Or ‘I became sex worker to win sex workers.’ But it will mean some people saying ‘I hang out with drug dealers and drug users to win drug dealers and drug users.’ ‘I hang out with sex workers to win sex workers.’
There’s flexibility, but there’s also faithfulness.
But why Paul? Why go through all of this?? It’s so much easier to stick with people like us.
We’re not even aware of how strongly we just gravitate towards people like us. When we’ve walked into a room we’ve assessed the people there in a nanosecond and we gravitate immediately to people like us. Without even thinking about it, we strike up a conversation with people our age, our race, our tax bracket, our sense of humour, our fashion sense. We’ve made those calculations at the speed of thought, and we slot into cliques with ‘people like us’. Because – we crave acceptance, we deeply want to belong and it’s exhausting crossing social and cultural boundaries.
So how does Paul do it?
23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I read another translation of this verse which I think is a bit better. “That I may be a CO-sharer in the gospel.” Paul shares in the blessings of the gospel. He has the right to be God’s child. But he doesn’t want to enjoy this blessing on his own. He wants other CO-sharers. He wants other children around him.
And that’s the prize he speaks about in v24. In v25 he calls it ‘the crown’ – we might call it the gold medal. The prize Paul is interested in is having MANY other people share in the gospel blessings with him. In Philippians (4:1) Paul calls his fellow believers his joy and crown. And in 1 Thessalonians (2:19) he says this:
19For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
Paul’s vision of the future is not just sitting down at the great feast with Jesus and no-one else. His vision is sitting down at the feast in the new creation enjoying the presence of Jesus WITH the Philippians and the Thessalonians and the Corinthians and with as many other people as possible. That’s a crown worth working for. That’s a prize that can get you excited. And so Paul tells us how this prize motivates him.
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Do you know how much training it takes to run a marathon? Frankly I don’t want to know. Cos it aint happening? I’m out of breath just brushing my teeth. But I looked up a few training regimes this week. And they seem to vary between 14 and 23 weeks. And at some point you’re running 75 miles in a week. Even if I did nothing else, there are not enough days in a week for me to run 75 miles. Where do they find the time? I read one 14 week regime it said: Week one, day one: Run 6 miles. I need a 14 week regime just to get me to that! By day 7 of week one it said: Run 13-15 miles. You’re running a half-marathon by the end of your first week. I thought ‘That’s a bit extreme’ and then I realised that this was the training regime for someone who wants to run the marathon in under 3 hours.
But actually this is the kind of regime that Paul’s talking about because, v24, we run in such a way as to get the prize. In v24, Paul’s not saying ‘There’s only one spot in heaven, I’ll race you!’ He’s saying the way we seek to win others for Christ is not like a fun run. It’s not a saunter in the park. It’s a competitive sub-3 hour marathon regime. And when you’re on this regime you watch your diet like a hawk, you eliminate virtually everything else from your diary and your life is taken over by running.
But you know what? If you are obsessed enough about running a sub-3 hour marathon, your whole life will be brought into line. If the crown is in mind, if the medal is in mind, if the finishing line is in mind, you’ll find that you have the most amazing self-discipline. Unnecessary stuff gets squeezed out and you’ll do it with zeal because you’re looking to the prize.
Read verses 22-23 again:
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul wants to sit down with Christ in the new creation. And next to him is that Philippian jailor he converted. And the Jewish business woman Lydia. And that demon possessed slave girl he met. When Paul was in Philippi he was flexible enough to reach all of them – you can read about it in Acts 16. But there they’ll be the Jail warden, the well-to-do Jewish business woman and the demon possessed slave girl. (Ex-demon possessed). They’ll all be feasting together. What a prize! And opposite Paul will be the very religious Jews he met at the synagogue and across from them the very clever Greek philosophers he converted in Athens, and next to them will be some Corinthians who chapter 6 told us were once sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers. They’ll all be there because the Gospel is big enough to meet and change all of them – and Paul was Christ-like enough to be flexible.
Who do you want to sit down with on that day? Jesus’ blood has paid for every tribe, language, people and tongue. Who’s going to reach them? Who’s going to reach Eastbourne? Well – we are. That is, if we abandon our entitlement spirit. If we stop insisting on hoarding time and money and comfort? If we stop sauntering along like a fun run, or like a shadow boxer. There is a race to run and a prize to win. Thank Jesus that we can partake in this great work. And ask Him now for help to sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed so we can run well.
…Continued from here.
Let me ask you a question: What does an evangelical look like?
‘Evangelical’ is just a label that bible believing Christians like us use for ourselves. It’s taken from the word ‘evangel’ which means ‘gospel’. An evangelical just means a ‘gospel person.’ So what does an evangelical look like?
The scandal is – everyone knows what an evangelical looks like.
Ned Flanders. We know it. The world knows it. Evangelicals look like white, middle-class, suburban, university educated, irritating, sanctimonious nerds.
Did you know that most of the world is not white, middle-class, suburban, university educated and nerdy? So what would an evangelical look like then?
Would you look like a Muslim to win Muslims?
Would you become a biker to win bikers?
Robed to win the robe lovers?
A chav to win chavs?
Here is a protestor outside the strip clubs of New Orleans. Is this the evangelical position towards the sex trade?
Here’s XXXchurch handing out ‘Jesus Loves Porn Stars’ Bibles. They distribute thousands of New Testaments with this cover to pornographers and enthusiasts at porn shows across America.
All things to all people that by all possible means we might save some.
Here’s the point: If evangelicalism starts to be visibly identifiable as a certain cultural / religious movement it’s actually betrayed the evangel – the gospel – that supposedly shapes it.
That is the stunning implication of 1 Corinthians 9
To be continued…
Continued from here.
What does it mean to give up our rights for the sake of the Gospel? What does that even mean? What is the gospel? Let me summarize it for you:
‘Gospel’ is a word that just means good news. And here is the good news that the bible tells us:
[SLIDE - the Gospel]
Jesus Christ has all the rights in the universe. Jesus Christ is the LORD. He’s the King. He is the Son of God. He made the world. He owns everything. He’s got rights. Ultimate, supreme, absolute, unimpeachable rights.
On the other hand we… We think WE are Lord. If I ask you ‘Who’s got the right to tell you what to do…?’ Your heart, if it’s anything like mine, answers: ‘No-one! No-one’s got the right to tell me what to do.’ Well… what have I just said about Jesus. He does have the right to tell you what to do. So when we say ‘No-one’s got the right’. That’s blasphemy, mutiny, an utter rejection of Christ. It’s what the bible calls sin.
Now how does Jesus respond? He has every right to crush our little rebellion. But here’s what He does. He gives up His rights. He who was rich became poor. He came into our world as a penniless preacher. He who was free became our slave. He stooped and served and washed our feet. He who was powerful became weak. He could have called on 12 armies of angels to save Him from death, but instead He walked alone to His execution. He who was righteous, became sin. You see on the cross Jesus stepped into our guilty shoes and He took the punishment due to us. Have you ever seen a Man more stripped of His rights than Jesus Christ on the cross? Next time you find yourself bitterly lamenting how you’ve been wronged, think of your LORD, Jesus Christ. Next time your entitlement spirit surges up within you and you cry out ‘It’s not fair’, think of the cross. There is the King of the Heavens, the LORD of the earth betrayed by a close friend, deserted by the disciples, wronged outrageously in the courts, mocked and abused by the soldiers, nailed to a piece of wood and jeered at by those He came to save. But He gave up His rights and took our punishment. So that we, who were due His punishment can have His rights.
[SLIDE - John 1:12]
John’s gospel chapter 1 says ‘To all who receive Jesus, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become a child of God.” Jesus has the right to be a child of God – He’s the eternal Son of God. If you receive Him, you get His rights – you’re adopted into the family. This offer is for free and it’s for everyone.
[SLIDE - For free, For everyone]
There are only two kinds of people in this room. Those who insist on their own rights to run life their own way. And those who’ve given that up and received Jesus instead. In Him they’ve received the right to be a child of God. Which are you?
If you’re not yet a Christian, if you’re still insisting on your own rights to run life your own way, stop! Tonight, stop insisting on your rights. Receive Jesus and by receiving Him receive the right to be a child of God. That’s the only right worth getting excited about.
If you have received Jesus, do you realize the nature of this gospel? This gospel is an offer. And if you receive the offer, it claims you so you pass it on. The gospel doesn’t just save you – it claims you. It’s not just a message you once trusted – it’s a way of being that has wrapped its arms around you. We’re like someone who has received the torrent flowing down the hill, and we are swept along to offer it to others. So as we pass it on to others we will pass it on for free and for everyone.
You know what that means though, don’t you? It’ll be costly. Not costly to pay off God – all that’s dealt with. We’re children now. Kids don’t pay back their parents, they just receive. But of course kids grow up and have other kids. And that’s costly. Same with us. We don’t pay back God, but it will be costly as we pass the gospel on to others. It was costly for Jesus to offer us a free salvation. It was costly for Paul to offer the Corinthians free gospel ministry. It will be costly for us to freely offer the gospel in Eastbourne.
In the first 18 verses, Paul has outlined the time and money cost. It put tremendous pressure on Paul’s diary and his wallet to serve the Corinthians like this. Gospel ministry costs time and money. And that’s a huge sacrifice. Are we prepared to sacrifice time and money? But more than this, from v19, Paul talks about another sacrifice that is just as costly.
From v19 we see Paul sacrificing his personal comfort. It shows him moving out of cultural comfort zones and into other cultures and religions and socio-economic groups to win them. But to offer the gospel for free and for everyone that’s precisely what needs to happen.
To be continued…
I haven’t posted any sermons for ages. Part of the reason is that they’ve had trouble recording them at church the last couple of months. So I don’t have any mp3s, but here’s the text of Sunday’s sermon if you’re interested…
Previously on 1 Corinthians, we asked the vital question: Can I eat this kebab??
In a culture where the meat comes from ritual sacrifices in idols temples, Christians with a weak conscience couldn’t eat it without thinking they were part of idol worship. Others with a strong conscience thought, “It’s just a kebab, it’s not demon meat.” And Paul says to the strong, ‘You’re right – you can eat. But that doesn’t mean you should eat. Because if you eat in front of a weak Christian, they will be scandalized, or they’ll be tempted to eat themselves against their conscience. And that will tear them apart.’ So Paul says ‘Yes your right to eat is real. But you should relinquish your rights for the sake of others.’
And that’s a theme Paul will continue through chapter 9 as well.
Rights are real. But rights are to be relinquished.
The Corinthians were full of rights. They were saying: ‘I’ve got the right. I’m free. The law’s on my side. I know the right answer, so I’m untouchable. No-one can take my rights from me.’
That’s just like us. We are a rights based society
Children learn the phrase ‘That’s unfair’ very early. It’s pretty much the only phrase teenagers ever say – to adults that is. ‘So unfair.’ It’s deep within us.
We have an enormous ‘entitlement spirit’ within us. Someone steps on our toes, someone dares to infringe upon our sphere of protected personal space, puts demands on our money or time, intrudes into our wallet or our diary – we are incensed. You might not think you’re particularly bothered by your rights. But I guarantee, when you are wronged you feel it. We know our rights and we stand on them.
What’s amazing is: We fight for our rights so we can stand on them. Paul asserts his rights so he can give them up.
But that’s what he does in the first 14 verses – he asserts that he does actually have rights. But only so he can tell you he’s relinquished them.
And so from verse 1 Paul discusses one major right he has as an apostle. He has the right to get paid.
Now Paul wasn’t paid by the Cornithians. Paul worked a second job to pay for his ministry. He made tents for a living. And on Sunday he never passed the plate, he never took a collection from the church. He never asked the Corinthians for a penny while he worked among them. Paul relinquished his right to payment. But first he’s going to show them that he had every right to claim payment from them. Do you see v4 and 5 – ‘Don’t we have the right… Don’t we have the right…’ He’s establishing the right of gospel workers to be paid. From verse 7 he gives some examples:
7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?
Can you imagine that? A soldier having to work a second job just to afford his own bullets? “The enemy’s coming – quick I’d better re-mortgage the house.” Ridiculous. Soldiers have a right to payment.
Then in v7 he gives the example of farmers. Who would object to a farmer eating the food he’s grown? Every farmer has the right to say: “My soil, my labour, I’m gonna have some.”
Then in verses 8-10 he tells them that even Oxen were treated better in the OT than Paul has been treated in Corinth. The OT law gives even oxen the right to eat on the job, to profit from their own labours. But Paul has effectively muzzled himself, refusing to take anything from the Corinthians. Even though he had the right.
Then in v13 he gives the example of OT priests, they got paid. And if Paul hasn’t yet convinced the Corinthians of his rights, he cites Jesus Himself, v14:
14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
In Matt 10 and Luke 10 Jesus said the gospel worker is worth his keep. Jesus says ‘Pay your gospel workers.’ So Paul has proved it: His right was real. But he relinquishes it.
Isn’t that a challenge? Would you be prepared to do what Paul does? Paul has been like a soldier working a second job, like a farmer not eating his own food, like an OT priest passing up the sacrifices, like an ox muzzling himself so he can’t eat what he’s entitled to. And even when Jesus says he CAN, Paul says: I know, but I won’t. Paul’s approach to his rights is SO unlike our own. If anyone else infringed on Paul’s rights like this Amnesty International would be sending in the Human Rights Lawyers. But Paul treats himself like this. Why?
Well it’s all over the chapter. Look at the second half of v12:
BUT we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
Or look again at v18:
18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.
Or again v23:
23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
It’s for the sake of the gospel. Taking a collection was going to hinder the gospel going out in Corinth. People would get the wrong idea, as though he’s just a con-man interested in a quick buck. Well then the gospel would get a bad name. So when the right to payment clashes with the cause of the gospel – the gospel always wins.
And Paul wants us to think the same way. What wins with us? Our rights or the cause of the gospel?
To be continued…
For instance, of 338 Protestant clergy in Canada:
* 94 per cent said they read Scripture for sermon preparation, but it rarely spoke to them personally.
* 86 per cent prayed regularly with others but had little time for personal prayer.
* 71 per cent did not feel spiritually affected while leading worship.
* 89 per cent sometimes felt like they were simply going through a ritual when they led worship.
* 70 per cent felt unfulfilled in ministry.
Read the whole thing here.
Bottom line – there’s a real spiritual / theological problem here. First there’s a professional model of ministry invested in by all – clergy and lay. And it’s not as though ministers signed up thinking ordination would be a spiritual trip and ‘Hey, why’s everyone pressing me to be CEO!’ Typically selection for ordination involves selecting CEO-types in the first place (in evangelical settings anyway)!
Secondly let’s realise that this is a ‘job satisfaction’ type psychological assessment which again buys into the professional model. I wonder how Paul would have filled out the survey:
8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:8-12)
So however we assess it and according to whichever model (and especially when it’s all-of-life, communal, missional, Pauline!) then one should enter pastoral ministry under no illusions! It feels like death. But then true life always does.
Do you believe these words from Jesus:
Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:20)
Christ’s promise for Christian fruitfulness is out of this world. 3000%, 6000% or 10 000% is an incredible yield.
Do I dare believe in this kind of growth? To put it another way, Will I hear and welcome this word?
We would believe Jesus if He said “five times what was sown!” We marvel at 300% yield. We settle for two-fold growth. But Jesus promises something so supernaturally grand we must ask, If I believed Jesus’ words about Jesus’ words how would I treat Jesus’ words?
Well Mark 4:20 means I’d hear them and welcome them.
Mark 4:10-12 means I’d hear them with Jesus at the centre – allowing them to draw me to Him.
Mark 4:15 means I’ll hear them prayerfully, recognizing the spiritual battle undertaken every time they’re heard.
Mark 4:16-17 means I’ll cling to them when trouble comes – allowing the trouble to drive me deeper into Christ in His word.
Mark 4:18 means I’ll be vigilant against wealth, worry and wanting as powers competing in my heart for attention.
But Jesus promises — PROMISES — that hearing and welcoming His word in this way will produce a transformation in our lives beyond belief.
How will the word produce transformation? The way a seed produces growth.
It will be:
Weak Looking but Powerful
Internal but Outgoing
Gradual but Multiplying
First, Weak Looking but Powerful
Tim Keller tells the story of a man from the middle ages who was so terrified of meeting Jesus at the judgement that he commanded a giant marble slab to be put over his grave. Apparently he did this so that, when everyone else was resurrected, he would stay down. Well before the burial was complete and the slab was laid, an acorn fell into the grave. Over the years, a great tree grew, split the slab in two and moved it off the grave.
You might have thought, What chance does a little acorn have against a giant marble slab? No contest, the acorn wins. It looks so weak but it is more powerful than a team of horses. Weak but powerful.
Just like the Word. You say a few words about Jesus, you speak truth into another person’s life and it looks pathetic. And yet eternities are changed and lives are transformed.
Second, Internal but Outgoing
Last week a friend of mine told me of the worst pain he’d ever felt in his life. In the midst of it the words came to him: “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) It enabled him to handle that pain with an astonishing peace. Where did that word come from? It had been planted there. And it grew up later with an amazing power to comfort. The word goes in and it comes out organically.
This is not the parable of the Brick Supplier who drops off masonry to four different builders. That would be a story about externals and effort and easily measurable growth. But no, the word goes in like a seed and later, organically, it comes out.
Third, Gradual but Muliplying
Think of this: within a single acorn lies all the genetic information required to produce not only an oak, but from that oak will come scores of new acorns. And from them more trees with hundreds of acorns and so on. Given enough time a single acorn could cover the whole earth in wood.
Luther knew this gradual but multiplying power. When explaining how he opposed the whole Roman church he said this:
I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.
That’s the power of the word.
So do we believe Jesus when He says, Thirty, Sixty, a Hundred-fold?
This is from a sermon I preached on Mark 4:1-34:
Had to chuckle at this from Jonny Long’s Grace4Life webiste:
In case you can’t quite make it out, it’s
Which is your favourite?
Any to add?
”Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”—1 Corinthians 7:20.
Some persons have the foolish notion that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, or Bible women. Alas! how many would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler’s stall, where the godly worker, as he plies the awl, sings of the Saviour’s love, ay, glorified far more than in many a prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by the poor unlearned carter as he drives his horse, and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow labourer by the roadside, as much as by the popular divine who, throughout the country, like Boanerges, is thundering out the gospel. God is glorified by our serving Him in our proper vocations. Take care, dear reader, that you do not forsake the path of duty by leaving your occupation, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it. Think little of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. Every lawful trade may be sanctified by the gospel to noblest ends. Turn to the Bible, and you will find the most menial forms of labour connected either with most daring deeds of faith, or with persons whose lives have been illustrious for holiness. Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that he calls you to something else. Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to His praise, and if He needs you in another He will show it you. This evening lay aside vexatious ambition, and embrace peaceful content.
Many, unhelpfully, reserve the word ‘calling’ for a particular burden felt for ordained ministry. This is not the sense of the word in the bible. 1 Corinthians begins with the one calling which embraces us all:
God… has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor 1:9)
Chapter 7 embellishes upon this – some were called when single, some when married, some when slaves, some when free, some when circumcised, some when uncircumcised. Our call was not to these positions. Rather, in these positions we are called to Christ. And Paul is keen that we live out our calling in the position we find ourselves.
So remember - whether paid by the church or by your firm, whether working in the home or at school, you are called. Called to fellowship with Christ. Called to live out this fellowship in the place where you are. The church pastor could prove a total failure in living out this calling. The Christian dentist could witness to hundreds in their “secular” job. There’s one calling - a call to fellowship with Jesus. So “Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to His praise.”
On Sunday I’m being ordained into the presbyterate. In the Anglican church we’re ordained first as Deacons and then, usually the following year, as Presbyters (or “Priests”). I’ve been reflecting on my ordination vows – which are weighty indeed. Here is an extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (this is right at the heart of the Church of England’s doctrinal basis which consists of the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty Nine Articles and the Ordinal).
The bishop says this:
“Now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.
“Have always therefore printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve, is his Spouse, and his Body. And if it shall happen that the same Church, or any Member thereof, do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue. Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of the Ministry towards the children of God, towards the Spouse and Body of Christ; and see that ye never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life.
“Forasmuch then as your Office is both of so great excellency, and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves, as well to show yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord, who hath placed you in so high a dignity; as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be occasion that others offend. Howbeit, ye cannot have a mind and will thereto of yourselves; for that will and ability is given of God alone: therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit. And seeing that ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies.
“We have good hope that ye have well weighed these things with yourselves, long before this time; and that ye have clearly determined, by God’s grace, to give yourselves wholly to this Office, whereunto it hath pleased God to call you: so that, as much as lieth in you, ye will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way; and that ye will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry; and that ye may so endeavour yourselves, from time to time, to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the Rule and Doctrine of Christ, that ye may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the people to follow.”
And here are some of the vows we will take regarding the Bible – this time taken from the Common Worship ordination service which we’ll be using…
Bishop: Do you accept the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?
Ordinands: I do so accept them.
Bishop: Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.
Bishop: Will you lead Christ’s people in proclaiming his glorious gospel, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.
Bishop: Will you faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them, so that the people committed to your charge may be defended against error and flourish in the faith?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.
It’s pause for thought to consider that those bishops about to meet at the Lambeth Conference have at least three times publicly signed up to this understanding of ministry and the bible. They’ve made vows just like this before God and man – once as Deacon, once as Priest, once as Bishop. Anglicans may not always live true to their calling – but this missional, gospel-centred, word-based ministry is the essence of true Anglicanism.