Keeping the Mission in the Front of our Minds

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, ESV)

… but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 9:12b, ESV)

In chapter 7 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed the issues related to having a divided heart and divided interests when one is married and called to care for a family. In Chapter 8, Paul addressed the issue of Christian liberty and how that liberty can not only be a blessing, but can also harm the weak faith of another Christian. Paul is stating the marital responsibilities and emphasis on our rights in Christian liberties can get in the way of our greater mission.

And in chapter 9, Paul continued in this same vein of thought. While Paul had personally chosen to work to support his own needs, he did not think that it was wrong for the local church to support the work of the minister of the gospel in order for him to focus his time and energy in laboring for Christ. But Paul wanted to be able to continue “tent-making” in order to be free from the accusation that he was using the church to make a living, much like the false teachers around him. He valued this above the right he had to be supported by the work of the ministry. To Paul, the mission was far more important than his own comfort or ability to rest.

As Paul continued developing this idea throughout the chapter, he builds upon the idea found in verse 12–it is better to “endure anything than to put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” It would be better to stay single, better to abstain from meat, better to labor in the day and minister at night for the sake of the gospel.

Paul’s focus was laser-like. He was constantly looking for opportunities, strategies, places of commonality for any way to proclaim the gospel to the lost. It didn’t matter if they were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male of female–he wanted to preach Christ crucified to everyone everywhere at any time.

I think that at times what I see in our world, the focus is on comfort and a better life. This is clearly an issue in the US, but it also is true of human existence. We seek for better. We work for more ease and comfort. That isn’t always bad. But when this idea becomes centralized in our heart and it begins to become the force that drives our lives, it shows that we have begun to move ever so slowly away from the mission we so passionately embraced at our conversion.

By way of reminder, Paul told the church in Corinth that this tent of a body not only will break down, but it will be glorified one day: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–9, ESV)

We might willingly live hard lives for Christ. We might suffer greatly, and endure much–sometimes by choice in our commitment to Christ–but one day we will find our Sabbath rest in Christ. May we not seek to enjoy a cheap substitute rest now, but instead walk with Christ and his Apostles, willing to endure suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Our mission has not ended.

Lord, help us endure to the end!

Ugly Ambition or Faithful Service? Which Describes You?

“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26, ESV)

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

(1 Corinthians 4:1–2, ESV)

I don’t think there is anyone that wants to live and die in obscurity. But today, working hard and living a quiet life isn’t enough for many people. For a growing number, becoming YouTube or Tik Tok famous is what they aspire to become. That urge, and many more “acceptable” goals have driven people to do shameful and underhanded things throughout human history.

I wish I could say that this ugly ambition is largely absent from the church of Jesus Christ, but I would not be speaking the truth. Many Christians have moved their ambition from godliness to the glittering promises of our media age. Today, it would seem, anyone can grasp at a bit of celebrity. I am not saying that all ambition is wrong, but what is the goal that we are seeking? How do we want people to regard us?

In 1Corinthians 4:1, the word “this” (“This is how one should regard us…”) refers back to what precedes chapter 4, specifically, 1Cor 3:18-23, where Paul rebuked the Corinthians for boasting in their favorite teachers. Instead of seeking to be lifted up in our identification with men, we should first consider ourselves servants–but specifically servants of Christ. I have seen repeatedly how young men have hitched their wagon to their favorite pastors, teachers and theologians, as if somehow their identification with these men will given them credibility with the right sort of people.

So, who did Paul “hitch his wagon” to? How did he want to be known? He connected himself to Christ, but he did so by being identified as Christ’s servant, as his steward. This reference to servants and stewards fits well with Paul’s self-reference to him and Apollos as humble field workers in 1Cor 3:5. There is no great glory or honor in a field worker, yet there is a great importance attached to this enormous responsibility for the land owner and master. There is accountability that will come at the harvest and there is great dignity for the hard working farmer who sows and then reaps in due time.

So, while the proud, carnal believers in the church were crowing over who it was they were identifying with in order to boost their own credibility, Paul refused to play this game, and instead stated that he was content with simply being a third-galley under rower who is never seen by the Captain. Paul is a work-horse, an inboard motor for the ship. He is happy to work behind the scenes, so that the Master of the house is glorified, guarding himself from stealing any of that glory.

But, there are lazy servants. There are servants who steal, and loaf around, and some who distract the other workers with bickering and fighting. What sort of servant and house steward was Paul ambitious to remain? Paul wanted what his Master wanted-and the Master requires stewards to be found faithful at their work. Faithfulness is what is foremost in importance in the steward. All other attributes pale in comparison if he is not faithful to carry out his master’s desires and bring him the fruit of his labors. The dependability and trustworthiness of a steward has a direct bearing upon his being judged as faithful. The farmer who is not consistent, who does not work hard, who steals from his master, who is lazy will not be judged as faithful. First Corinthians 3:8 speaks of the farmers who will do their jobs faithfully and in the end will receive their wages according to their labor. The comparison of the faithful and unfaithful laborer is seen in 1 Cor 3:14-15.

Paul most likely recognized that as he was writing, some would be coming to their conclusions about how successful he had been in being faithful. Some would deem Paul a failure, and other a smashing success. But Paul cut through all of this, knowing that this sort of comparison ends mostly in sin, and he stated these words in his letter:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4, ESV)

It is the master of the house who determines whether his servant is faithful. That isn’t for me or for you to say. In the end, on the last Day, that will be determined. For me to try and guess, and for you to try and judge is neither fruitful nor charitable. After all, we should be more concerned about how we will be judged. Because on that Day, the eyes of the Lord will be upon each of us. So, how will we be found? I pray that I will be found faithful. What about you?