Sunday, 15 December 2013

Scum of the Earth - 1 Corinthians 4:8 - 13

Last week the image was of the king in the victory parade giving out gifts to all. Here in 1 Corinthians Paul employs the same image but this time the focus is not on the front of the procession but on the end. The end would be where the prisoners of war were strung along, paraded and pilloried, sure to meet an ugly death in the arena. In both chapters the Christians are in view, but clearly the 'feel' of the image is quite different!

To the world Christians (especially leaders) are a laughing stock. Why do they forego safe incomes in cause of service to God? When the world offers them so much why do they accept less? They are ill treated, yet put up with it. Surrendering job or even housing security, they devote time to projects and seem to work themselves to the bone. They are nuts!

Paul pulls no punches, his Greek words are clear enough - as he sees it Christians are the scum, the garbage, the scapegoat, the dirty stuff left over that no one wants to see. This is your reality if you live in North Korea today, or other oppressive places. You'll get the most menial jobs, but Christian pastors will embrace this as part of their service.

Yet there is truth in this passage for UK Christian leaders too. Note the dialogue of this passage is with other Christians, and Paul contrasts himself with them. The harsh reality is that ill-feeling and attack can come from within just as it can from the world. My own experience over the years confirms this.

So an additional requirement for a leader such as an elder must be for someone so ridiculously sold out for Christ that they somehow embrace the prospect of being at the end of the procession, downwardly mobile to scum-hood! Responding to curse with blessing, facing the prospect of persecution, they must maintain kindness when people are muttering about their leadership.

All this raises our key question:

[OUT] Are you dying to success?

This is how Paul saw it! Yet he also saw it as God's way - the same way as Christ who gave up everything to be born in a makeshift manger, living purposefully to be led to a cruel death, a scapegoat on the cross. Somehow in actively facing rejection, slander and humiliation God's power is miraculously seen.

The Christian call therefore is to empty ourselves, to die to normal success criteria, to live with being the scum. Christian leaders must lead by example ... at the back of the procession.

[OUT] Are you dying to success?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

5-Fold Ministry - Ephesians 4:1 - 13

Everyone on the streets, happy, waving flags. At last the war is won and victory can be celebrated with a gigantic parade. The King comes into the square and their is a deafening roar. The King then motions for silence and proclaims that everyone will receive a gift.

This is the picture that Paul uses in v4-8, a classic battle scene reminiscent of ancient conflicts where it was typical for the king to mark a significant victory with a gesture of kindness to all his people. The victory here is that of the Risen Christ, now ascended over all. The gift is the Holy Spirit sent to empower their lives.

Everyone gets a gift to equip them to live a life worthy of their calling:
  • Apostles are sent, to declare the resurrection. Now Jesus is Lord new places, cultures and people can come under his Lordship. Kind of like being sent to play on a new playing field (using a football analogy here ...).
  • Prophets bring to fore God's insight. In this way they mark the boundaries of that new playing field.
  • Evangelists are literally tellers of the good news. They are recruiters, inviting people to join the team.
  • Shepherds are those who care and look after. Continuing with the football thing, a bit like the team physio.
  • Teachers are those who can understand and explain, unpacking knowledge. Kind of like the team tactician.
The church needs all 5, which is why Jesus gives all 5 through the Spirit. Note this empowering is not just for the expert few. Also note that these are not simply job descriptions, but come to us in the form of people - it is therefore important to see people as gift.

And also there is no gender in this passage: everyone is empowered.

But the empowering may be seen in different ways or degrees. All are gifted to minister to one another and the world, some are gifted in ways that lead the whole community, potentially taking on positions of responsibility in the church.

Responsible positions need leaders of character. That is why sections regarding elders such as in Titus specify aspects of character. Yet the requirement is effectively on two axes: we need the gifting (seeing something of the 5 aspects above) and the character to bear that gifting in service.

Such service is to the whole body, to enable the whole body to do its work - we all have a job to do! That is why we ask:

[IN] How has God equipped you?

To return to the football analogy, the match is not won by spectators in the terraces but by the players on the pitch. As a Christ-follower you are qualified to play, and he gifts his Spirit to you to equip you to play your part.

[IN] How has God equipped you?