Monday, September 3, 2012

In the Midst (The Ministers of God, Part 2)

" all things we commend ourselves as the ministers of God with much patience: in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in floggings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings...." II Cor. 6:4-5

Paul just established that every one recreated by God has been tasked with one ministry: the proclamation of the gospel of reconciliation, reconciliation with God (II Cor. 5:17-20). Now he shows exactly what such a life ought to look like, starting with a hard truth: we prove ourselves to be the ministers of God in every situation, even and especially in the worst situations. Paul list three specific situations here: the personal, the social, and the ministerial.

" afflictions, in necessities, in distresses...." All of these words point to times of personal headache and heartbreak. (As a matter of fact, in the Greek both "afflictions" and "distresses" carry the idea of "pressure".) Many things will constrain us in our personal lives. Jobs will fail or go bad. Relationships can die or sour or never work out at all. Bills must be paid and futures planned for, and yet money is tight near to strangulation, and everything is uncertain. Coworkers can anger us, family can frustrate us, and strangers can annoy us. It is in the midst of these things, of the constant pressures and dire straits of daily living, that we are to prove ourselves to be the ministers of God. This is not about being pious do-gooders or starry-eyed somnambulists but rather new creations (II Cor. 5:17). Above and beyond the immediate hard situations in our personal lives, we let God and his over-arching, ever-working redemption inform everything that we do. "Yes, times are tough and life is life, but God is still God, and He and His kingdom are mightier than even the toughest troubles that I face."

" floggings, in imprisonments, in tumults...." All of these words point to times of social turmoil and upheaval. This is true in any nation today, whether it is the anti-Christian deathtrap that is China or the post-Christian acid bath that is America. The life of true faith will never be socially acceptable (unless it is watered down into some sort of blathering moralism or inconsequential spiritualism that no one in their right mind would disagree with because no one in their right mind would ever care about it). The real life of faith, the life of being a new creation where God and His kingdom are bigger than any and all present and future social orders, will always be unpopular (and in some cases, illegal), but we must live it nonetheless. We must prove ourselves to be the ministers of the gospel, even in lands where it is punishable (either physically or simply by becoming a pariah) as well as in lands where the social order is unstable and tenuous (which is the underlying idea in the Greek for "tumults"). In the midst of such things, we remain the ambassadors of a greater land to come. "Let every city of man crumble and fall. My hope and loyalty is built on nothing less than the city of God, which is as imperishable and immutable as its King."

" labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings...." Here Paul is being self-referential. He is speaking to what he himself has endured while ministering to the Church. The idea is this: regardless of what specific shape the ministry of the gospel takes in your life, regardless of how the specific facet of grace God entrusted to you takes form (I Pet. 4:10), if you give yourself whole-heartedly to it for God, then you will many times wear yourself out. You will worry yourself to many sleepless nights, and you will lose heart as the world turns more and more against you and its people seem less and less inclined to hear you. In the midst of these things, of working out the calling that God has placed on every one born to Him, we must prove ourselves to be the ministers of God. It is not simply a matter of doing the work (for any unbelieving fool can do something "in the name of God" or "Christ"), but rather remembering who it is that is with you doing it (Phil. 2:13-16). Whether in personal pains, social disorders, or ministerial heartaches, God and His redemption must be ultimate in our minds and in our lives. "Yes, the way is hard right now, and yes the world grows darker even as I spread the light like mad. But I do not strive for victory, or run the race for the fastest time. Rather I endure all things because I love my Lord, because I am His and He is mine."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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