THE VITAL WORK GOD HAS GIVEN HIS PEOPLE TO DO
Dear Friends in Christ,
We really seem to have a divided nation. People say we need to have different political parties to present different views. Yet, it appears we have lost respect for each other. Remember when Jesus cast a demon out from a man that caused him to be blind and mute.The miracle caused some to wonder if this was the Son of David, the Messiah. Others didn’t want to hear that kind of talk. In fact, they called Jesus an agent of Satan. Jesus pointed out their statement was nonsensical. “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” Divide any kind of group will do harm. A basketball team loads itself up with a bunch of superstars. Everyone wants to be a star, but no one works together. It is laughable when they don’t win the championship. A favorite quote from coaches is this one: “There is no ‘I’ in team.”
The Devil himself knows when church members disagree with one another about the teaching or direction of the church there is nothing but trouble ahead. The first Christian Church in Corinth was all that. There was disunity and inflated egos. It was Cliquish. Paul, whom God used to establish this church, must have been heartbroken to see how much havoc sin had done to the spiritual fabric of the church. Paul reminds us of “The Vital Work God has Given to His Church to Do.”
The work is urgent, but before we get to the urgency of the work we need to understand what the work is God has called us to do. Actually, Paul states that very clearly in the previous chapter. He tells God’s people “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” God wants the world to know that the world has been reconciled to himself through Jesus.
People criticize Christianity because we talk about sin. Sin is a four letter word to many. Sunday visitors have said that. For many it is the word. Call it a mistake or an error or miscue, but don’t call it a sin. And don’t talk about hell. We are reading these days how laundry detergent comes in colorful little packets that kids mistake for candy. They find out it isn’t candy. In fact it is dangerous.
Sin breaks our relationship with God. “Sin separates us from God so that he will not hear,” says Scripture. Don’t mislabel it. Don’t call it candy when it’s actually be poison. Because of sin we need reconciliation with God. We use that term with broken marriages that need to be put back together. We use that term with labor contracts where two parties are far apart. God and humanity needed to be brought back together again - reconciled. That was done when our sins were “not counted against us.” Yet be clear on this: they were counted. They were counted against Jesus instead of us.
I saw two items this week that made the thought of reconciliation a pleasant thought. One was a photo of Michelle Obama playfully hugging George W. Bush. Each represents two very opposite political viewpoints, but Bush said he enjoys Michelle Obama. He said, “She laughs at my jokes.” The story is one that took place after the Civil War. Historians estimate 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War. This was the war that pitted brother against brother and family against family. After the Civil War ended Jefferson Davis the leader of the Confederacy died, and Ulysses S. Grant the leader of the Union died. Their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other. They became closest of friends. That is amazing! Yet, the most amazing fact is that our perfect God could love such imperfect people as we are. What is amazing is that he took all the steps to reconcile us to himself. He did all the work. “Christ became sin for us who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” No more war. God wants us to know it. God want us to tell it.
What occasioned this letter was that some in Corinth seemed to treat this reconciliation between God and man as nothing. “As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” Paul had spent eighteen months in Corinth and then moved on. Word had gotten back to him that there was backsliding. They were not as zealous as they once were. Their faith was definitely going in the wrong direction.
Remember the parable of the sower and the seed. The seed represented the Word of God. It fell on four types of soil. The soil represents the different reactions people have. There is the hard ground. It glanced off their heart. They had no time for God. There was the rocky ground where the seed warmed fast and germinated because it the rocky soil was warm. Yet it died quickly with no water. Enthusiasm peaked quickly but waned just as quickly. This faith was like a firework exploding but dying as quickly. There was the ground in which there were weeds. The seeds burst open and started to grow but the weeds choked the plants off. There are more fun things to do in this world that feels good to the sinful flesh than God’s reconciliation in Christ. The fourth soil is where the seed took root and grew and grew and produced fruit. A good harvest was reaped. These represent those who believe and receive. They (I pray I can see “we”) understand the need for the God’s reconciliation in Christ and complete it is that in Christ God counts no sins against us.
Yet it is significant that three of the four soils hindered the seed from growing. I find the numbers interesting – three of four. Is the Lord telling us something by this? There is the story of the Ten Lepers. Only one came back to thank Jesus.There are passages like, “Many are called but few are chosen.” “But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Don’t think it is unusual that you feel outnumbered. You are blessed to know. Hold on to the faith God gives you. Don’t be someone who receives God’s grace in vain.
Paul quotes an Old Testament verse that expresses the urgency. “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” God’s grace in the reconciliation of humanity to himself is not something we can dabble in now and then, put it down and be assured that we can pick it up again. We need to be fully committed to it for our life time. It is for now, tomorrow, the day after and the day after until we die.
We pray for a list of friends and family members who have cancer. Lately we have added to the list almost weekly. Besides that, in the last couple of months, three parents of members died and a great grandmother. Personally I had a college/ seminary classmate get killed in a car accident who was hit by a drunk driver. A friend’s husband’s twin brother was very recently diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia and chemo doesn’t seem to be touching it. Now…not tomorrow is the time to believe.
Now is the time to share it. Like most everything in God’s church we should speak in terms of “we” and “us” and “our.” Paul is “God’s co-worker” but then we all are. That is something to remember as you call a new pastor. A pastor is not a hired gun to do all the works and for everyone to watch. The Bible says, “God gives some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ can be built up.” He is the trainer to train.
Don’t view the church as a fort where everyone sits behind its walls and peers over the walls to see the pastor and the six members of the evangelism committee taking on all the people who don’t know Jesus. We are Jesus’ Christian soldiers. We are out there together.
So what are you saying, Pastor? I should go and get some walking shoes and get my thumb ready to push doorbells. If that’s what we want to do, don’t rule out. Judy and I do have a six year old granddaughter who has a list of people in her first grade class who know Jesus and don’t know Jesus. She plots and plans how to tell those who don’t know him. She plots how she is going to tell the non-Jesus kids on the playground. That’s our work, people. Catie is six. She knows it.
Don’t hinder the work from being done. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Remember that Paul was criticized. Some people (and they were able to influence others) thought of him as a fake apostle. But Paul sacrificed to love him who loved him first.
When you study his life, you know he had once lived on the other side of the fence from Christianity. He was a Pharisee. He believed Jesus was to be hated and opposed rather than loved and followed. Did God ever turn him around! God the Holy Spirit does the same with every one of his children! Paul was so committed he says the following about his life. “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.”
The first radio preacher was a man by the name of Paul Rader. He went to Rome and stood on the floor of the Colosseum where thousands of Christians entertained some pretty sick people as they were torn apart by lions. Rader said, “I stood uncovered to the heavens above, where God sits for whom they gladly died, and I asked myself, “Would I, could I die for Him tonight to get this gospel to the end of the earth?” Those early Christians he said “lived on the threshold of heaven, within a heartbeat of home, no possessions to hold them back.”
Paul emphatically says that we, God’s children, must never be stumbling block for others but witnesses. We might not be all preachers and teachers, but we need to live what we believe. Lots of people aren’t good about putting their faith into words, but we can all put our faith into actions.
How? “In purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left.” As the campfire song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by your love. Our love for the Word and love to live the word is demanded.
We have a great message to believe and follow and share. No, it is not as enthusiastically received by others. In fact, he speaks about the contrast between believer and non-believer, “Through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” Not everyone will respect and honor the Savior. Many make that tough on us. Don’t be discouraged. Press on to the finish line doing the work God has given us to do. Believe it now and always. Let him count on you to do it.