“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this — though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You fathers — if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:5-13, NLT (Italics mine)
So, suppose instead you went to the house of your friend, Jesus, whether at midnight or whenever, wanting to borrow a dash of His Holy Spirit. You say to Him, “The whole world is in need of your presence, a fresh experience of your visitation, and I myself have nothing to give them.” And instead of, say, calling out from His bedroom, you can hear Him rushing to the door; it gets thrown open and almost pulls you in with its gust of wind blowing by. “I’m so glad you called on me first,” Jesus smiles. “My door is never locked, and I’m absolutely never in bed. I can help any time, any minute, any day.”
And, furthermore, Jesus tells us this Himself — that what He does He does for friendship’s sake – you are His friend – and if you continually knock, He will continually answer because of your joyous persistence. And it is He Himself who tells you, keep on asking, and you will literally receive what you actually ask for. He says: Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door of the Kingdom will be opened to you. For everyone who asks… “everyone” most certainly including you… receives. Everyone who seeks… “everyone” still most certainly including you… finds. And to everyone who knocks… and you are still a part of “everyone” here… the door will be opened.
If you yourself are a father – or if you can imagine a good father – if his children ask for a fish, he would not give them a snake, would he? Or if they ask him for an egg, would he give them a scorpion?
“Of course not!” Jesus laughs, as He says.
“So if sinful people know how to give good gifts to their children” – and here Jesus grins with the readiness of a wonderful reminder coming – “or, if formerly sinful people who I’ve set free with my blood know how, then how much more – listen… HOW MUCH MORE will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
"The Church will outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to the immortal Head will share His immortality... If we do not believe it let us be honest and relegate the Christian faith to museums. If we do, let us give up the pretense that it makes no difference. For this is the real answer to every excessive claim made by the collective. It is mortal; we shall live for ever. There will come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation, the human race, all biological life, is extinct, and every one of us is still alive. Immortality is promised to us, not to these generalities. It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individuality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share Christ’s victory over death. We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. That is just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets its face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-fodder. But as organs in the Body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple, we are assured of our eternal self-identity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale."
C.S. Lewis, "Membership"
"This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us." 2 Corinthians 4:7
Which is a wonderfully helpful verse because of the way it centers on those interconnected elements: priceless treasure; a common earthenware jar; splendid power; and, God. You see, it's the overwhelming pricelessness of the treasure that properly proves the commonness of the earthenware jar. It's the degree to which the power is shown and proved to be splendid that throws all glory at the feet of God, not us.
This verse is a practical lesson in contingency. The more priceless you find Jesus to be, the more reasonable you'll be about your own self-importance. If you are struggling with pride and self-importance, spend more time with Jesus.
And, with that: The more practically powerful you find the Kingdom of Heaven to be, the more you will naturally ascribe all glory to God. If you're fighting to be the god of your own universe, it would be worth your while to compare your power to His power.
We find true freedom when we find the promises of God to be verifiably true in everyday experience. Test the contingencies.
"The administration of the Law which was engraved in stone (and which led in fact to spiritual death) was so magnificent that the Israelites were unable to look unflinchingly at Moses’ face, for it was alight with heavenly splendor. Now if the old administration held such heavenly, even though transitory, splendor, can we not see what a much more glorious thing is the new administration of the Spirit of life? If to administer a system which is to end in condemning men was a splendid task, how infinitely more splendid is it to administer a system which ends in making men good! And while it is true that the former temporary glory has been completely eclipsed by the latter, we do well to remember that is eclipsed simply because the present permanent plan is such a very much more glorious thing than the old." 2 Corinthians 3:7-11
Do you see how Paul is comparing-contrasting this clear dichotomous pair - the Law vs. the Spirit - to bring our NEW REALITY into focus? Well, let me make the contrast even more clear!
In verses 7-11, Paul gets absolutely carried away in using different forms of the same Greek word: δόξα - "glory." In just these four sentences, he uses the word TEN TIMES:
has been glorified
having been made glorious
One senses that Paul is trying to make a point...
Well, here it is: The overriding, overpowering, overmastering reality of Jesus is GLORY. If you've ever had the sense that this is anything less than TEN GLORIES WORTH OF GLORY, you've been getting the wrong impression. We are dealing in a GLORIOUS way of life.
Which begs the question of our hearts today: Is what we're doing with all of this absolutely GLORIOUS? Do you find yourself, more often than not, feeling a little carried away by the glorious wonder of Jesus?
Or... does it feel scheduled, routine, manageable, based upon a specialized knowledge that some have and others don't; does it feel (let's be honest) a little boring? Systematic? Something that can be picked up or set back down dependent upon the way a week's going?
My friends - again - the Way of Jesus is GLORY. Anything less - anything like the old Law - is not what we're after.
Jesus Himself is what we're after. Together. Today.
"Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable 'scent' of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16a).
Could I paint a little picture for you?
You are in Rome. The streets are full of shouting and celebration. It is the day when the conquering general – whether Pompey, or Caesar, or Octavian – is going to proceed through the streets in his triumph. Everyone is ready. The whole city now waits in a hush.
And now here he comes: through the Porta Triumphalis – the Triumph Gate: with the senators and senior officials at the head of the march; with the trumpeters blowing their horns in glorious unison; then the wagon-trains upon wagon-trains full of the spoils of war; then a white bull, silently being led, who will, at the end of all this, be slaughtered in sacrifice; then, in chains, the conquered princes and kings and generals who have been defeated, who have surrendered; then the bodyguards and priests who spread both the sense and the fragrance of death and life…
And then finally… the general. The victor. The conqueror. He is being pulled in his tall golden chariot by four massive horses. He is wearing a kingly robe and his face is painted with red to remind the crowds of the power of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Over his head is held a laurel wreath by an auriga, a gladiator, whose job it is to whisper in his ear: “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!” – “Look behind you. Remember that you are but a man. Remember that you will die!” so that this conqueror won’t forget that he is still just a servant of Rome.
And then, behind his chariot, his officers, his staff, and then, behind them, the men of the ranks: the ones who have fought and bled and lost their friends to make this triumph a reality. They sing songs with their off-key soldier voices, in order to – in their own words: “ward off the jealousy of the gods…” And their favorite song is “Io Triumphe!” - O Triumph!
Why do I tell you all this?
Because Paul would have you there!
“Thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ...”
He would have you remember the angels and saints who came before the coming of Jesus; those prophets and kings who sounded the trumpet of the One to come. He would have you learn the overwhelming realities of the spoils of war – the infinitudes of bounty – that have been won by the victory of Jesus. He would have you look into the eyes of the once-for-all-time sacrifice who is the Lamb of God; Jesus’ perfect knowledge that His perfect life would end in death for us. And he would have you be a conquered one: a person whose personal surrender to Jesus only serves to spotlight His greatness, His glory.
And then comes this fragrance he mentions here: the “unmistakable scent of Christ,” which is both life and death.
And then Paul would have you turn the fullness of your gaze upon that One who rides in the golden chariot of Heaven. He is robed in kingly purple and His face is crimson with the blood He shed: He is the incarnate reality of the Godhead. And Paul would have you in the chariot, holding the crown above the head of Jesus with your life and worship; he would have you constantly whispering, in life and death, these words: “Jesus, I look unto you. I will never forget that you are man and God. I will never forget that you can never die!”
And Paul would have you there behind Him, a part of the General’s field staff – an officer always attached – and he would also have you in the ranks. And no matter the sound of your song, the timbre or cadence of your particular voice, he would have you never stop singing: “O Triumph! O Jesus!”
“Thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ..."
"It was God who preserved us from imminent death, and it is he who still preserves us. Further, we trust him to keep us safe in the future, and here you can join in and help by praying for us, so that the good that is done to us in answer to many prayers will mean eventually that many will thank God for our preservation." 2 Corinthians 1:9,10
In these two verses, there's a Greek verb that's used three times, and implied once, that I think it's absolutely imperative you leave from this email knowing. In the Phillips translation, above, and because of its changing tensing, it's translated as: "preserved us," "still preserves us," "keep us safe in the future," and "our preservation." The word is ῥύομαι (pronounced Hroo-oh-my).
And here's the reason I want you to know it: its definition. ῥύομαι means: "to rescue, to save, to deliver," and yet the means of that action are very pictorial, like, "to draw to oneself" or "to hold close as a means of salvation."
So, my friends, the next time you feel troubled, afraid, anxious or in-need-of-rescue, I want you to say aloud - to yourself and to Him: ῥύομαι! (Hroo-oh-my!) The Jesus we're following doesn't complete His rescues at a remove or from a distance: the way He does this, always, is up-close and in His arms. That's where all this ends. So why not be there now?
"I shall come to you after my intended journey through Macedonia and I may stay with you awhile or even spend the winter with you. Then you can see me on my way — wherever it is that I go next..." 1 Corinthians 16:5-7
And I would remind you that that last is not some sort of throwaway line: "wherever it is that I go next." No. In fact, from his moment on the Damascus road, to the moment of this letter being written, take a look at some of the ways that Paul's next steps have been navigated:
- After his conversion, he “stayed” in Damascus … but “without delay he proclaimed Jesus…”
- Then, under almost immediate threat of assassination, he was “let down through an opening in the wall… in a basket”
- After which, for three years, he communed with Jesus in the deserts of Arabia
- Then to Jerusalem, where he “joined... in all their activities, preaching fearlessly”
- Until, after “several attempts on his life,” the brothers “took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus”
- Out of the blue, Barnabas arrives in Tarsus “to find Saul” - then, together, they go to Antioch where, “for a whole year they met together with the Church”
- Then, those in Antioch wanted to send famine relief to the fellowship in Jerusalem, and did so “through Barnabas and Saul”
ACTS 13: THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY IN THE HISTORY OF THE BODY: HOW DID IT BEGIN?
- While everyone there was worshipping and fasting, “the Holy Spirit spoke… saying, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for a task to which I have called them.’”
- So, immediately, they sail off…
ACTS 16: LATER, on the THE SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY:
- While “making their way through Phrygia and Galatia… the Holy Spirit prevented them from speaking God’s message…” in that region.
- Then, when they “came to Mysia… the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them” to enter in there, either.
- After which, in a town called Troas, Paul “had a vision of a Macedonian man” saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
- And so, immediately, they set sail for the unknown…
Really, it's apropos how much of Paul's life and ministry happened because of ships, because, like a ship's, Paul's obedient ear acted like a rudder for the Early Church. WHOLE MASS MOVEMENTS are set off on their way because this ONE MAN was listening and obeying the Spirit of Jesus.
I will consistently maintain, until the day I'm dead, that nothing is different now: that individual lives in the Body can hear, respond and help direct the whole Body. Is that life your life? Are you "the one"?
The only way for you to find out is by listening today... and obeying.
"For I passed on to you Corinthians first of all the message I had myself received—that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold. He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve, and subsequently he was seen simultaneously by over five hundred Christians, of whom the majority are still alive, though some have since died." (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)
Now, even though we don't have a record in the Gospels or Acts of this 500-person encounter with the Resurrected Jesus, I want us to ponder on it just a little. FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE! Presumably, with there being FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE there, these must've been people who had tracked with Him over part, or all, of His three-year ministry.
So, perhaps they'd sat amongst the 5,000 and had a share of the bread and fish. Maybe they'd been there for the Sermon on the Mount. I wonder how many of them had been standing along the street at His triumphal entry, waving the palms, shouting the praises?
For these people, whether with Him for a day or for the whole three years, I can almost guarantee I know the thought that ran through their minds throughout: "What I'm seeing here is historic. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff..."
BUT... then He died. Thereby moving from "historic" to "historical." What yesterday was unprecedented always get crushed under the weight of the Present...
EXCEPT... if death - and time - no longer rule. If a Man should walk back out of the tomb...
For these FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE, imagine assembling, being together, and then - THERE HE IS - ALIVE - JUST LIKE BEFORE. For the entirety of the rest of their human lives, Jesus would never be "historical": He will always be contemporary.
Where is He, for you, on that timeline? Is He "back there" or "right here"? Is His life "historical" or contemporaneously "historic" - happening right now and all the time?
Here's a hint at your answer: The way you live your daily life. It will tell you. It knows.
"Once leave your own knowledge of God, your own sentiment, and take secondary knowledge, as St. Paul's, or George Fox's, or Swedenborg's, and you get wide from God with every year this secondary form lasts, and if, as now, for centuries, — the chasm yawns to that breadth, that men can scarcely be convinced there is in them anything divine.
"Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. Friends enough you shall find who will hold up to your emulation Wesleys and Oberlins, Saints and Prophets. Thank God for these good men, but say, 'I also am a man.' Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.
"Yourself a newborn bard of the Holy Ghost, — cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
from An Address at Harvard Divinity School
"At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror..." (1 Corinthians 13:12a)
Which may be one of the starkest, clearest descriptions of human life you'll ever read anywhere. Our lives are subjective, individualistic, only-personally-experienced, so the mirror-as-lens is an apt analogy. And oh! how true is the puzzlement we almost always feel!
But: "...The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!" (1 Corinthians 13:12b)
Which takes us to the book-end of this mirror analogy - to its completion, its fulfillment - also written by Paul to the Corinthian fellowship. 2 Corinthians 3:18 - "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory..."
You see, the time is coming - the time has come - when we may see reality whole and face to face... in His face! At present all we know is a little fraction of the truth - of this Jesus - but the time is coming - the time has come - for knowing God as He knows us.
So, if living - if life - if seeking the way of love - is like looking into a mirror, then the question becomes: Whose reflection are we looking for? Will we always assume that the Self and its puzzlement are our only lots in life, or will we look deeper? Will we strive to experience, delight to experience, our new unveiled, curtain-torn reality where the face reflected in the glass becomes more His? Will we be looking for Jesus' likeness today?
"Men have different gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives them. There are different ways of serving God, but it is the same Lord who is served. God works through different men in different ways, but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all. Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it." 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
One of my favorite words in French - and one that came to mind as I read these verses - is élan: it means "impetuous ardor; a combination of style and energetic confidence; a vigorous spirit; an enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness; and spirited self-assurance, verve, dash, enthusiasm."
Because, I don't know about you, but I get a little bit more "dashing" when I remember that the "same Spirit," the very life of Heaven, is inhabiting all of us. I get a little revved up with "impetuous ardor" when, together with you, I realize that I may directly follow and serve the "same Lord" who is Lord of all. My spirit gets a bit "vigorous" when I'm told that the "same God" who created Creation is working to achieve His eternal purposes through me. I can't help feeling a little "enthusiastic," a little "lively," I've got some "verve" for the version of my life where I can "make the most" of what the Holy Spirit's given me.
There are "gifts" - there is "service" - there is "work" - and there is opportunity for glory in this Kingdom of Heaven. Because there is a "Spirit" of this "Lord" who is "God" who is calling our human spirits to the highest heights of Heaven.
Friends, will we live these lives with élan this week? Will we "make the most" of the spiritual gifts He's so readily given us?
"Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself." 1 Corinthians 11:1
Really, this is the exact definition of the generational process we now call "discipleship": to, as closely as possible, imitate and take on the way another person intimately interacts with, imitates and personally follows Jesus. This has been an important thought for our community for years, so let's start off the New Year by saying again: Discipleship is not knowledge-about; it is not knowing-all-the-right-answers; discipleship is the literal process of literally, demonstrably following Jesus of Nazareth. And one of the best ways of doing that is to copy another - to apprentice yourself to another - who is literally, demonstrably doing that already.
Again, as Paul says it: "Copy me... as I copy Christ himself."
Which raises a pair of good New Year's looking-forward-and-looking-back questions to consider:
Who, personally, are you learning the Way from?
Who, right now, are you leading along that Way?
Happy New Year, my friends! May it be a rich one in Him!
Then the Pharisees went off and discussed how they could trap Jesus in argument. Eventually they sent their disciples with some of the Herod-party to say this, “Master, we know that you are an honest man who teaches the way of God faithfully and that you don’t care for human approval. Now tell us—‘is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not’?”
But Jesus knowing their evil intention said, “Why try this trick on me, you frauds? Show me the money you pay the tax with.” They handed him a coin, and he said to them, “Whose face is this and whose name is in the inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they said.
“Then give to Caesar,” he replied, “what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God!”
This reply staggered them and they went away and let him alone. (Matt. 22:15-22)
Isn't Jesus absolutely brilliant?
In the space of one action, one question and one comment, He is simultaneously doing three separate things: He is lowering the valuation of any-currency-ever as the denominator of life's importance; He is heightening our understanding of what our lives owe to God: ie. EVERYTHING; and, by so casually saying, "Just pay the tax," and then following that up with "And give God your all," He is showing us what the life of following Him is supposed to look like: stealthy, under-the-radar, seeming-to-fit-in while, in reality, it's working to aid and abet another Kingdom's earthly invasion!
He is setting up, here, a sort of Kingdom of Heaven guerrilla warfare. It will seem to be everywhere and yet nowhere. It will look just fine to the Caesars of this world - but they'll have no idea what's coming; Who is with us, behind us...
As we prepare for a national holiday centered around thankfulness, it might be good for us to remember that NO ONE has more grounds for gratitude than ALL followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For, after all, we personally know the One who created and upholds all creation... which is something! And we have had a glimpse of the glories of the Incarnation: His arrival, His life, His words, His sparkling personality. We have been set free - been set free: past tense - by the finished work of the Cross. And we now know that life and death hold nothing daunting for us: we have seen Him walk from the tomb - totally unscathed...
And so, where are we now; who are we now?
The actual, living, flesh-and-blood, personal representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to this generation of humanity...
...who've been imbued with the selfsame Holy Spirit of God that carried that Man through the 33 years of His human existence...
...and who may always - ALWAYS! - stop on a dime, reorient our attentions, and commune with the Living King who sits upon the throne of Heaven.
I'd say we have some reason to be thankful this week! I hope it's a wonderful one for you!
"For I should like to remind you, my brothers, that our ancestors all had the experience of being guided by the cloud in the desert and of crossing the sea dry-shod. They were all, so to speak, 'baptized' into Moses by these experiences. They all shared the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink (for they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them, and that rock was Christ). Yet in spite of all these wonderful experiences many of them failed to please God, and left their bones in the desert. Now in these events our ancestors stand as examples to us, warning us not to crave after evil things as they did." 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
When we hear of the idea of "failing to please God," it is easy to accidentally fall into an Old Covenant way of thinking. Like: "I hope that I don't fail to please Him..." or, "Uh oh. Am I pleasing?" But, again, that's Old Covenant thinking; that's a walking-around-in-the-wilderness sort of view of our new spiritual scenario...
In the New Covenant, Jesus is the guarantor - the perpetual keeper of His Father's good pleasure - the whole "pleasing" account is rendered through Him. This new arrangement isn't contingent upon your goodness in the Father's sight; the whole thing hangs upon Jesus' perfection, Jesus' relation to the Father. And so it's only when we stand outside of Jesus - whether to do "bad" or, even, sometimes to do our own idea of "good" - that we get ourselves in trouble.
You see, our whole job now is to Abide in Jesus, to disappear into Jesus. For we will always ALWAYS be pleasing to the Father as we hide our lives in His perfect Son: that is the perfect finished work of Jesus for us.
Shall we engage with that wondrous work this workweek?
"We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this—in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We must write and tell you about it, because the more that fellowship extends the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it." 1 John 1:1-4
I've probably taught through this section 15 or 20 times, and I don't think it has ever ceased to thrill me as much as it did the very first time I read it in this, the Phillips translation. It's this wonderful combination of "high" and "low" Christologies: knowing Him as He is as the glorious King of Heaven while fully remembering Him as He was, as a Man, as that bearded Teacher-Carpenter out of Nazareth in Galilee: He is "something which has always existed"; He is "the very Word of life himself"; He is "life"; He is "the very life of all ages"... and yet "we ourselves actually saw and heard" Him; we "observed [Him] closely"; we touched Him; He "became visible in person to us mortal men."
Friends, there is nothing more glorious in all John's writings than the idea that his Best Friend - a Man whose scent he can still remember, a Man whose extra cloak he's perhaps kept with him all these years - is Himself the Meaning, the Definition and the Purpose of all life under the sun.
This is GLORY. This is the glory that's YOURS. This is the glory that's yours TODAY.
"You should look upon us as ministers of Christ, as trustees (or stewards) of the secrets of God. And it is a prime requisite in a trustee that he should prove worthy of his trust." 1 Corinthians 4:1,2
It seems to me that Paul is very clearly using particular words here to make a very clear point for his friends. He is - they were - we are - "ministers of Christ," "stewards of the secrets of God," and it is of the highest importance that we "prove worthy of our trust." I think we think of "ministers of Christ" as being ministers toward others; "stewardship of His secrets" as being personal and, ultimately hidden; and the measure of the "trustworthiness" of our stewardship of His secrets as being synonymous with just "keeping the faith."
No, no, and no.
A "minister of Christ" is a minister to Christ: he is an armor-bearer, a helper to Him in His work. A "steward of the secrets" of the Kingdom of Heaven is an explorer, an adventurer, a spelunker: his whole life is lived lost in these treasures for a purpose. And the measure of our "trustworthiness" in all this is the measure to which we make it plain, make it speak, to the world around us.
So, we minister to Jesus by disappearing into His mysteries, so that we might constantly return to the world to hand off more and more of His treasure!
How's that sound to you?
"In this work, we work with God..." 1 Corinthians 3:9a
What an important thought for us to fully grasp: "In this work, we work with God." WE (you and I) work WITH (as in, together with) God. In some translations, it will say "co-workers," "fellow-workers" or "partners working" with God - same difference! - "we work with God." The God of the universe. The God who created everything we see. The God who took on flesh to show us His exact nature. That God: "We work with Him."
I don't know of any other way in which the human experience could be more heightened, more dignified, than by this idea of our lives being really useful to God. And, really, not just useful: needed, necessary. Our working with God totally undercuts any of those statements people make, like, "God doesn't need us, but He can use us" - it is very clear: He wants us and needs us. Just as Jesus perfectly incarnated the Way, the Truth, the Life of God so that humans could finally grasp His glory, it is needful now, necessary now, for His followers to do the same. We work with God as we allow His Spirit and Son to use our lives, possess our lives, and go out and live His life all over again for all to see.
Friends, we are called this week to work WITH God!
"Look up and see the great God upon His throne. He is love – an unceasing and inexpressible desire to communicate His own goodness and blessedness to all His creatures. He longs and delights to bless. He has inconceivably glorious purposes concerning every one of His children, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to reveal in them His love and power. He waits with all the longings of a father’s heart. He waits that He may be gracious unto you. And, each time you come to wait upon Him, or seek to maintain in daily life the holy habit of waiting, you may look up and see Him ready to meet you. He will be waiting so that He may be gracious unto you. Yes, connect every exercise, every breath of the life of waiting, with faith’s vision of your God waiting for you."
Andrew Murray, Waiting on God
"For who could really understand a man’s inmost thoughts except the spirit of the man himself? How much less could anyone understand the thoughts of God except the very Spirit of God? And the marvelous thing is this, that we now receive not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can actually understand something of God’s generosity towards us... Incredible as it may sound, we who are spiritual have the very mind of Christ!" (1 Cor. 2:11, 12 & 16b)
HAVE the very mind of Christ! "Have": ἔχομεν: Present Indicative Active: we "have, possess, have in keeping, hold, dwell in, may acquire, and enjoy" the very mind of Christ. We HAVE the very mind of Christ - right now. Today. Right this minute.
As it pertains to the human experience - and the human perception of the human experience - what are the three ways that every person on the planet experiences and perceives life? Mind. Body. And spirit. And so, do you you realize that, for every single one of us who calls on the name Jesus, two-thirds of our human experience and perception are instantly raised into the heavenlies? We have the Spirit of God Himself now. We have the very mind of Christ. To the degree that we desire to, we may now - RIGHT NOW - experience the exact thoughts and inner life that Jesus Himself experienced.
How might that change your idea of what this week could hold?
"For look at your own calling as Christians, my brothers. You don’t see among you many of the wise (according to this world’s judgment) nor many of the ruling class, nor many from the noblest families. But God has chosen what the world calls foolish to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world calls weak to shame the strong. He has chosen things of little strength and small repute, yes and even things which have no real existence to explode the pretensions of the things that are—that no man may boast in the presence of God. Yet from this same God you have received your standing in Jesus Christ, and he has become for us the true wisdom, a matter, in practice, of being made righteous and holy, in fact, of being redeemed. And this makes us see the truth of scripture: ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
What I find wonderful about this closing section of 1 Corinthians 1 is how it shows two patterns of approach to life - literally, in this paragraph, top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top - and then contraposes those positions and their ensuing fruit:
So, if you're after the world's wisdom, the world's power and the world's forms of nobility, you will most likely end with shame and pretense. That's Paul's unvarnished top-to-bottom readout. And take a read through the book of Ecclesiastes and tell me King Solomon doesn't come to, essentially, the same conclusion...
BUT, if we "glory in the Lord," if we find ourselves "redeemed," meaning we've been "made righteous and holy," then our "true wisdom" comes naturally from our "standing in Jesus Christ" and our seeming foolish weakness becomes, in Him, strong wisdom. It is as if we become some sort of new, supernatural life-form. Which we, in fact, are!
For you and I are a "new creation" now, totally new already: We are being made to be just like Jesus Himself. That's the bottom-to-top of Paul's concluding thought, here. And, to me, it sounds like life itself.
“For this salvation came first through the words of the Lord himself: it was confirmed for our hearing by men who had heard him speak, and God moreover has plainly endorsed their witness by signs and miracles, by all kinds of spiritual power, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, all working to the divine plan.” (Hebrews 2:3b,4)
Has all this been your personal experience: this progression of events proceeding outward from you salvation?
Firstly, did your personal salvation come to you as if from the lips of Jesus Himself?
Has it been confirmed and extended by others who also hear from Him?
Has it been endorsed by living in an atmosphere where signs and miracles flourish?
Is “spiritual power” a day-by-day norm for you?
Are “gifts of the Holy Spirit” more to you than just a list to read in Paul’s letters?
Is your life an integral working, a fruitful forward-moving part, of the overall “divine plan”?
If - like me - you feel any sense of deficiency between what you just read and your own experience, have no fear! Because the One who makes all of this so, the One who is the centerpiece of all heavenly power and experience, is also the One who wants to take you, personally, deeper into all of it...
In fact, let's see how far we can go with Him in His wondrous Way! This week is our laboratory for experimentation!
“...we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men
"His unchangeableness enters into the faith that feeds upon it, and communicates itself to it; yea, imparts itself to the soul that clings to Him as such. Look not at yourself, your feelings or attainments, but at Him who changeth not..."
Andrew Murray, The Holiest of All
"How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead. Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have 'arrived' spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal — my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ." (Philippians 3:9b-14)
As Paul evaluates his life, this translator, J.B. Phillips, frames what has happened within him by choosing to phrase his initial words as “How changed are my ambitions!” Which begs the question of us: What are our ambitions? In which direction are your own efforts in life aimed? After wealth? Success? Power? Title?
Because, to be truthful - and quite blunt - most of the “ambitions” that are held up highest by this world run clean contrary to the Way of Jesus. He didn’t send out His disciples and say, “Get into positions of prominence and, from the top, effect great cultural change in a downward direction with your accrued wealth and prestige.” So, for that reason, as Paul traces the shift in his own personal priorities, he gives us his “do’s and don’ts” in personally drawing ever nearer to Jesus:
1) “I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’ spiritually”
2) “I do not consider myself to have fully grasped [the purpose for which Christ called me] even now”
1) “I long to know Christ and the power shown by his Resurrection”
2) “I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died”
3) “I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me”
4) “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal” – “the honor of being called by Christ in God.”
Paul’s “changed ambition” was to glory in the “honor of being called”; in essence, to never get past the fact that Jesus, the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, actually chose to choose a man like him. As he “grew up” in his Belief, Paul made it a point to never grow past his ability to be surprised by the glorious salvation of Jesus.