Tuesday, April 08, 2008

We do not realize our competence.

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I want to emphasize that I am not at all suggesting that Christians shouldn't pray for healing (in fact, in our small group last night we did just that). But I'm concerned about routinely focusing on healing prayer in a Sunday morning church service. This is a sensitive subject because, well, so many people seem to need healing! So let me address the matter again, in the hopes that I might explain myself more clearly.

I think a preacher has a lot to do with how his listeners see themselves, how they self-identify. I've sat under three preachers in my "career" as a Christian. The first led his listeners to self-identify primarily as sinners deserving nothing but death. The second, primarily as called-out ones, given a commission from God. And the third, very often, as hurting ones, whose primary need is healing and comfort.

Note: it's hard to say that any of these three were wrong, but each chose to emphasize one thing to the exclusion (or at least the significant down-playing of) the others.

But it's not difficult to see how Paul, who was nothing if not "pastoral" in all his epistles, addresses his congregations. Who are these people in Corinth, in Rome, in Philippi and Colossae, etc.? How does Paul address them?

The Romans Paul addressed as "all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." [Romans 1.7]

The Corinthians, who were so ornery and problematical, he addressed as "those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints." [1 Corinthians 1.2]

His epistle to the Ephesians was addressed to "the saints who are in Ephesus." [Ephesians 1.1]

The Philippians epistle was addressed to "all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi." [Philippians 1.1]

The Colossians were called "the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae." [Colossians 1.1]

What was Paul consistently emphasizing in terms of the identification of his audience? The word "saint," speaks of holiness, which is ours through faith. Note also that in two instances above, and in many others that one can find throughout Paul's letters, we find the idea of the call. Believers are called ones. Called to be saints. Called according to God's purpose. Called to be holy. Called into fellowship with Christ. Or just simply, "called."

The call of God implicitly speaks of mission, purpose, responsibility. To speak to your congregation, preacher, as a gathering of "the called," is to honor them and also to remind them of their essential identity in Christ.

We are called to be ministers of grace and reconciliation, carriers of the Good News to a hurting and sin-corrupted world. That commission is laid on us whether we are sick or well, poor or rich, etc. Our circumstances change, but our commission remains.

And note this: we carry out this commission in a battle-zone! Maybe the toil and trouble of the week has caused us to forget our high calling, and maybe we have at times set it aside in favor of other things (as did Demas). On Sunday, when the called ones come back together for encouragement and equipping, it's so that they might return to the battle with renewed hope.

So Preacher, remind me of who I am in Christ. Re-commission me each week. If you are preaching to believers, you are speaking to people whom God has made "competent to be ministers of a new covenant . . ." [2 Cor 3.6] What a powerful statement that is. Whatever competence we have comes from God, of course, but if it comes from God, it's nothing to sneeze at! Yet, in my experience, we often do not realize our competence as ministers. We need to be reminded. We need to be taught. We need to know who we are in Christ!

1 comment:

flyawaynet said...

This is the first thing I've read in awhile that was so deep I knew I'd have to come back and read it again. This is a good post. Thanks