on “the ministry”

Did you know we are all called to it?  Why yes, it’s true.  If you are a Christian, that is, a person who is trusting in Christ alone for your salvation from the wrath that is to come, you are called to “the ministry.”  Whatever do I mean you ask??  Well, i’m glad you asked.  Consider the following from 2 Corinthians 5:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation19 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 reconciliation20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

So you may be wondering, what is this ministry of which you speak?  It is the ministry of reconciliation.  No, it wasn’t just Paul’s job or the Pastor’s job or the Evangelist’s job to reconcile people to God – it is the Christian’s job.  The moment you became a Christian you were called to the ministry of reconciliation.

See, when Paul uses “us” and “we,” in most cases, though not always, it might be what you could call a “corporate” we or us.  Maybe like the Spanish “nosostros”?  A plural “we” of sorts.  And not just him and the guys writing with him, but Paul and his audience, you and me, the reader.

God didn’t just reconcile Paul or Timothy, or Silvanus, or your Pastor, Teacher, Evangelists.  He reconciled all of us, and through Christ, gave all of us the ministry of reconciliation.  We are ALL ambassadors for Christ!  And as his ambassadors we have a message we bear to others on his behalf – the message of reconciliation.

It’s interesting ambassador is used here in conjunction with the ministry of reconciliation.  Isn’t it the case that in some countries what we call ambassadors others might call “minister of…”  Well, we are all ministers of Christ.  Ministers have a message.  The message is that God has reconciled humanity to himself through the atoning work of Christ on the cross!

It’s a great message, and it’s a great ministry!  🙂

Dave Black’s Paul, Apostle of Weakness

is now up on Amazon.  Here is a snippet from Chapter 5 that he posted on his blog:

In another vein, Paul can also use the words in several instances in the specific sense of bodily weakness, i.e., physical illness, thus approximating the fundamental usage common to all literature in antiquity. He clearly uses the root for sickness with reference to Epaphroditus (Phil 2:26-27), Timothy (1 Tim 5:23), and Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20), his close companions in the gospel ministry. Paul probably uses the root for sickness with reference to himself when he speaks of an “infirmity of the flesh” as the cause for his initial preaching of the gospel among the Galatians (Gal 4:13).

If we are correct in concluding that Paul is referring to a physical infirmity, we can think of this weakness as a particular disease or ailment, the specific diagnosis of which is, however, a mystery. Cases of illness among Christians in NT times indicate that the apostolic commission to heal (cf. Mark 16:18) could not be effected indiscriminately to heal oneself or one’s friends. Normal means of healing were available for Timothy’s gastric problem, for instance; and even in the company of Paul Trophimus became too ill to travel any further.

The classical Pauline passage on illness (2 Cor 12:7-10) is in this respect most striking of all, in that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” remained with the apostle despite even the most intensive prayer for its removal. Paul states three reasons for its existence: to keep him from becoming proud because of his revelations and visions (v. 7); to enable him to experience the power of Christ (v. 9); and to teach him the true purpose of hardships, persecutions, and personal difficulties (v. 10). Indeed, the entire passage is concerned more with the power and grace of the Lord than with the weakness of the apostle. Physical infirmity is evidence that the body “is sown in weakness” (1 Cor 15:43) and is a cogent reminder of the creature’s dependence upon the Creator. In this respect, the case of Paul is remarkably like that of Jacob, who learned to depend totally upon God only after he had been inflicted with a physical injury (Gen 32:24–32).

These instances of illness show that the real issue in the matter of human suffering is our relationship to God rather than our own physical condition, as painful as it may be.

Dave is going through a difficult time right now with his wife Becky being so ill and in the hospital (all this you can read about on his blog)m he doesn’t just write this stuff, he lives it – be lifting them up in prayer and show your support and encouragement to him by buying a book and sharing about it on your own blog!

passage of the day: 2 Corithians 12:7-10

in the Message Bible:

7-10Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.  No danger then of walking around high and mighty!  At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it.  Three times I did that, and then he told me,

      My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
      My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen.  I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.  It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.  Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

i suppose one could go the other way too, don’t let suffering give you a big head or cause you to walk around all high and mighty…but I know of no person like that so… that is mute.

this is interesting to me too because in circles I travel in, weaknesses are scorned.  God heals so no one should go around sick or infirm or disabled.  It makes me a bit of a monkey wrench in the theology of some groups.  😉

Even so, do I realize that maybe my disability of hearing impairment might be a gift or an act of grace on God’s part?  It has to be.  My loss stems from a birthing accident.  My shoulder got caught coming out and so I was stuck a few minutes and in the meantime lost oxygen.  a few moments longer and I could have been mildly retarded.  so definitely it is a grace from God to be as I am.  In his mercy he has allowed me to be this way.  Unfortunately I have many times been nothing but a big ol blockhead about it all and have damaged many a relationship because of it.  The miscommunications from it all can be wearisome for both myself and others.  Maybe in allowing my to become hearing impaired, God in his forknowledge was saving me from myself?   Really, understanding all this and my role as a hearing impaired person in a hearing world is life long process for me.

but I guess in the larger scheme of things, are you in danger of getting a big head?

HT: Mark Stevens

Gordon Fee on 2 Corinthians 13:14

He writes in his book To What End Exegesis?: Essays Textual, Exegetical, and Theological (Eerdmans 2001), 333, 334:

At the heart of Paul’s theology is his gospel, and his gospel is essentially about salvation – God’s saving a people for his name through the redeeming work of Christ and the appropriating work of the Spirit.  Paul’s encounter with God in salvation, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, alone accounts for the expansion and transformation of his theological language of God and of God’s saving work.  In light of this reality and the great number of texts that support it – with trinitarian language – these passages rightly serve as the starting point for any study of the Trinity in Paul.

The remarkable grace-benediction of 2 Cor. 13:14 offers us all kinds of theological keys to Paul’s understanding of salvation, and of God himself.  The fact that the benediction is composed and intended for the occasion, rather than as a broadly applicable formula, only increases its importance in hearing Paul.  This what he says here in prayer appears in a thoroughly presuppositional way – no at something Paul argues for, but as the assumed, experienced reality of Christian life.

First, it summarizes the core elements of Paul’s unique passion: the gospel, with its focus on salvation in Christ, equally available by faith to Gentile and hew.  That the love of God is the foundation of Paul’s view of salvation is stated with passion and clarity in passages such as Rom. 5:1-11; 831-39; and Eph 1:3-14.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is what gave concrete expression to that love; through Christ’s suffering and death on behalf of his loved ones, God accomplished salvation for them at one moment in human history.

The participation in the Holy Spirit continually actualizes that love and grace in the life of the believer and the believing community.  The koinonia, (“fellowship/participation in”) of the Holy Spirit is how the living God not only brings people into an intimate an abiding relationship with himself, as the God of all grace but also causes them to participate in all the benefits of that grace and salvation – that is, by indwelling them in the present with his own presence, and guaranteeing their final eschatological glory.

Second, this text also serves as our entrée into Paul’s understanding of God himself, which had been so radically affected by the twin realities of the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.  Granted, Paul does not here assert the deity of Christ and the Spirit.  What he does is to equate the activity of the three divine persons (to use the language of a later time) in concert and in prayer, with the clause about God the Father standing in second place(!).  This suggests that Paul was in fact trinitarian in any meaningful sense of that term – that the believer knows and experiences the one God as Father, Son, and Spirit, and that when dealing with Christ and the Spirit one is dealing with God every bit as much as when one is dealing with the Father.

Thus, this benediction, while making a fundamental distinction between God, Christ, and Spirit, also expresses in shorthand form what is found everywhere throughout his letters, namely, that “salvation in Christ” is the co-operative work of God, Christ, and the Spirit.

Get it?  Got it?  Good!  🙂


on 2 Corinthians 5:7

2 Corinthians 5:7 reads:

for we walk by faith and not by sight.

In my visit with Nathan last night I was sharing about how I feel as though the Lord has been bringing me to a new level of understanding what is meant by this statement – what it means to me on a personal level but also what I think it means for the Christian life in general.  I know others may know all about this or have an understanding of it but I can tend to be a bit behind sometimes – but I think too, the Lord will bring us to understand things experientially and not just intellectually.  I feel we’re being pushed to learn, at a new level, what it means to live by faith and not by sight.  Basically, it is to live not by what we can see but by what can’t always be seen – or to live by faith is to live on the promises of God for us and the vision he has given us and not based on the circumstances going on around us that might seem to, or which actually contradict, what we know by faith.

If you ask me, it is more freeing to live by faith and not by sight – too often living by sight can be just too hard.  If we use finances as an example often times it can seem like the numbers just don’t add up but somehow it is working out – that would be living by faith and not letting circumstances hold us back or deter us from following the Lord.  Now I am not saying to be stupid or to intentionally turn a blind eye to circumstances because sometimes living by faith is paying attention to those kinds of things – many have attempted to live by faith and openly ignored the circumstances and been burned, bad – don’t do that.  At the same time, however, living by faith (you know, being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see), can mean to not letting circumstances, like numbers not adding up, hinder you from pressing on in faith to live as God has called you to live.

In getting ready for us to come to Springfield, MO we were not sure we could come, we just did not have the money – so we waited on the Lord and trusted him the best we could – if nothing came through we would not go.  Well, the day before we were planning to leave I went to check the mail and to our astonishment we received a check for $1000,  and that from a missionary couple! (we all know that for missionaries $1000 can be hard to come by – so the gift blew us out of the water).   We knew we could make the trip – on the way we participated in a church service with some pastor friends of ours in Oklahoma and ended up leaving with $500.   You must know this does not happen every day and is not always normal but yet completely normal.   I was reflecting on all this and realized, this is what it is to live by faith and not by sight. Had we been living by sight, which we have and had been doing, we would never had been planning the trip as the numbers didn’t add up, but we chose not to let that deter us.

While I said it is freeing to live by faith – it is not always easy, and, in fact, it is very challenging and even costly – being willing to live by faith and not by sight comes with a price and often a high one – friends and or family aren’t going to approve; others will challenge you and contest your understandings of what living by faith means (and Nathan pointed out that this can be challenging living in the US which is pretty affluent), circumstances might really rise up and put up a challenge (something the Apostle Paul would probably chalk up to the powers at work) – all sorts of opposition will rise up and come against those who choose to walk by faith and not by sight.  So, if you think this is something the Lord is pressing you to do in a way you have not before done, be ready.  Know that when God is for you who can be against you?

If you have another view on this feel free to share it!  🙂

on 2 Corinthians

I have been reading Timothy Gombis’ new book The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God (IVP, 2010), and it has really been doing a number on me, and in me.  lol!  I LOVE this book!  I have a fuller review forthcoming but there has been so much of this book I have wanted to blog on but if I did, there’d be a copyright violation (since I’d quote so much of the book that is worth quoting and talking about)!  🙂

Anyways, in reading chapter 5 in this book he is talking about Paul and his approach to ministry and leadership.  As I read it, I finally think I understand why 2 Corinthians as a whole tends to be under represented in biblical studies.  We love to talk up 2 Cor 5:21, especially in the recent debates going on at this years ETS and other conferences between NT.Wright, Schriner, Theilman and Mike Bird among others (did Wright actually admit despite his writing to the contrary that salvation is not based on merit?!) – but how much of the rest of this theologically under represented and rich letter gets noted in any leadership conference, theological seminar or other venue?

Gombis notes Paul as the Apostle of weakness and that it is only through our weakness and dependency on God that we can experience his power or that God’s power them becomes fully manifest – listen to that carefully: it is only when we are completely and utterly and fully dependent on God and function in our own weakness that God’s power is made complete in us or that his power is fully manifest – this is true biblical and Pauline leadership.

Gombis confronts modern evangelical notions of leadership ability as firmly rooted in idolatry – many have given over to worldly notions of leadership that stand on stark contrast to what we see in Paul the Apostle.  Frankly, it is possible and more than probable, Paul would not be most people’s first choice to pastor any modern large congregation in any denomination, anywhere.  Why?  Well, he wasn’t a strong leader with a strong personality (something modern leaders want, expect, and demand), he operated out of weakness and not strength; he relied completely on God and on the Spirit’s power (most moderns, we rely on our knowledge, understanding, education (proper understanding of the Greek and Hebrew, etc), training and so on, not always on God or the power of the Holy Spirit) – one of the first ministry positions Debbie and I interviewed for, I knew very soon into the interview there was no way we’d be considered as I knew the pastor had it predetermined what he was looking for and that was a strong leader, which I am not.

Let’s face it, probably for many pastors and leaders, a deep sense of inadequacy leads us not to fully rely on God and the manifest power of the Spirit, but to run to the nearest MDiv, DMin or PhD program for better training, afterall we want to be equipped the best we can right?  🙂   I mean really now, who appreciates the idea that suffering validates true ministry in the Spirit, and that it is primarily through suffering God mediates the gospel to the those whom we minster?

Nien!  🙂  It is through strong effective leaders God mediates his gospel power!  People of good standing and strong character, well dressed and well spoken, well organized and without any flaws, well educated and on and on!  No weakness allowed, no flaws, no poor speech or speaking skills, none of that right?  And probably too, many of us would not last long in a congregation lead by weak leadership would we?  or leadership that was perceived as weak….

Well, that’s what I realized about 2 Corinthians anyways.