I wonder if when Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah his approval to go and rebuild Jerusalem, Nehemiah felt as great as I did last Sunday night?! I'm being a little flippant. What Nehemiah was doing in Jerusalem and what we are doing in our building project are not on the same scale of importance in salvation history. It did, however, feel great to have received 95% approval across St Paul's to proceed with the building and the ICCS. Like Nehemiah, I am confident that it was the Lord of heaven, the great and awesome God, who was sovereignly at work behind our vote.
In reflecting on Nehemiah 1-4 over the past week, I've been struck by his prayer life and his thoughtful, wise and hard labour. Nehemiah's prayers reveal his confidence in the God of heaven who is awesome and great and who would give success to their endeavours (1:5, 2:4, 4:14 & 4:20). However, his confidence in the sovereignty of God never led him to apathy, prayerlessness, inertia, laziness, or a mere fatalism. Notice especially that chapter 4 is peppered with prayer. This is the chapter where so much of Nehemiah's wise leadership is on display. It is the chapter where he works long and hard hours, and sacrifices a lot. At the same time he says our God will fight for us (v20), and he organises the people ready to fight. He follows the confidence of v20 with this description of how he organised the people in the very next verse: So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out (v21).
The promise of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16 is that he would build his church: He said: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven...on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Jesus promises, in person, to build HIS church,
and it will triumph over all forms and powers of death and evil and wickedness. He will build his church as the truth about him is declared and received, as people respond to Jesus in repentance and faith. The promise of the Lord Jesus should lead us out of apathy, inertia and fatalism into vigorous, wise, thoughtful, strategic, organised, prayerful hard work as we seek to build his church at St Paul's through the proclamation of the gospel.
I believe that the same principles of building Christ's church apply to building of the facilities at St Paul's. Confidence of who God is should lead to prayer and hard work. God worked behind and through our hard work and prayer to give us the result we received last Sunday. Can I implore you to keep praying? Right now we are in a very busy season in order to get everything approved and ready to start building in September. Staff, Wardens, Parish Council, the Building Committee, Noelene Cason, Doug the architect and the ICCS Board are working extremely hard to meet a number of deadlines. Pray for focus, energy, wisdom, and for God to keep the door open that we have been walking through for the past three years.
Key points for prayer as we labour hard:
Joining with you in being devoted to prayer for the building of Christ's church,
When we speak of ‘our church’, we are normally referring to the building we meet in, or the denomination to which we are attached. What we mean is identification. When Jesus spoke of ‘my church’ over two thousand years ago he meant possession. What he didn’t have in mind was a possession of a building but a community of people unified and identified by a shared allegiance to himself. We see this explicitly and implicitly in Jesus’ encounter with Simon Peter in Matthew 16.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
The church is not a building but a community of people with a common acknowledgement of Jesus’ claim upon them and his Lordship over them, with a common bond of love, loyalty and devotion to him. The church is God the Father’s family. The church is Christ’s body and bride, destined for the ultimate in intimacy with him and the sharing of his eternal life. The church is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the unseen but potent divine facilitator who shows us that Jesus Christ is real today. The Holy Spirit sustains our love for Christ, our trust in him, shapes and reconstructs our character into his likeness, and supplies us with abilities with the mutual ministries we sometimes call ‘body life’. This is the reality Jesus had in mind when he spoke of ‘my church’.
When Jesus said to Peter I will build my church he didn’t mean a new physical structure constructed by architects, building firms, benefactors and congregations. He was thinking about the complex process where the truth about himself is received, Jesus is responded to in faith and repentance, and the responders are increasingly conformed to him. Christ’s building of his church is a matter of his changing people on the inside in such a way that repentance, faith, and obedience become more and more the pattern of their lives, so that they increasingly display the humility, love, and zeal for God’s glory that we see in Jesus.
How does Jesus build his church in such a way that isolated, hostile, individuals get transformed into a corporate body that worships, works and witnesses in his name? The answer is, by his Spirit through his Word. The Holy Spirit makes the meaning and application of the gospel and the Bible clear and personal. The Spirit interpreting and evoking response to the Word of Christ is the means by which Christ builds his church.
Paul has a great picture of church growth in Ephesians 4: It was he (Jesus) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Notice that Jesus has gifted his church with Word-centred ministries of apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. These Word-centred ministries have the purpose of building up the church.
The encouragement for us is that Jesus promises to build his church through the Holy Spirit empowered ministry of the Word. His purpose will not fail. No ranting, raving and sophisticated argument will prevail against it. May we have confidence that Jesus will be faithful to his promise. May this confidence cause us to plead with him to keep his promise and take his word and plant it deep in hearts and minds. Let us labour in word and prayer in the power of the Spirit that Jesus’ church might be built in our midst.
Labouring for Christ-centred Bible saturation for us,
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-2 NIV)
These verses make a pretty clear statement about the vanity of human effort unless God is in it. God is sovereign over our advancement and over our fragile existence. James has the same idea in the New Testament when he writes: "Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that. " (James 4:13-15 NIV). Some have concluded - wrongly in my view - that a Christian, or a church, shouldn’t really plan too much for the future. This passage doesn’t condemn vision, planning or strategy, it does however call us to not trust in our human effort. The key to understanding James 4 is that if it is the Lord’s will all our planning and hard work will be fruitful.
How then will we know if ‘the Lord is building the house’ and that it is the Lord’s will that we proceed with this development? I had someone say to me once that if God wants us to build new buildings then he will condemn the old ones. In such circumstances building a building is a matter of necessity rather than vision and hard work in dependence on God.
The current property and school project is the result of more than 3 years of diligent, hard and prayerful work. We have seen God close doors to the school - firstly here on this site, and also at St Barnabas’. In both cases it was deemed humanly possible, but it wasn’t to be. In first instance here, traffic was seen as the major roadblock. In the second instance, God used the protests of a few residents to halt the project even though all legal and planning issues were addressed favorably.
Parish Council considered that it would be a miracle if the property was to be approved and developed for ICCS to commence in 2014 when it decided to include ICCS is our property development plans. I wrote last week that God has been producing the impossible over the past few months. This, however, has not come about by the folding of the hands waiting to see what God will do. There has been much ‘labour’, as there was in the previous two attempts. The difference is that this time God seems to be turning the labour into fruit. There are many things that we have no control over, but God is. One such thing is the response of neighbours and residents. It is astounding that NO objections were received by council to our plans.
I have suggested in the past that God has been holding the door open for us. Over the past few months we have been walking through it. We did that in February when we voted to lodge the DA. We will get another chance to walk through the door, or not, on the 21st July when we vote as a church to proceed with the development, or not. I am convinced it is right for us to proceed. I would therefore call you to support it on the 21st July. It is time to build.
Walking through the open door with you,
On the 24th February this year we voted 90% in favour of submitting a Development Application to Willoughby Council for the upgrading of our site, including a small school. I wrote this for the bulletin the next week:
I also hear the vote last Sunday as a voice of hope and expectation that God is able to do more than we have yet seen him do. The past few years has been hard work as we have gone through a significant process of restructuring leadership, redeployment of resources and overhauling the ministry culture at St Paul’s. We have seen the Lord shut a number of doors. I am fully aware that here are many ways the Lord can shut the door on this future if he pleases. But for now the door is wide open, and the church has heard a call to move through it. May we now put our hands to the plow and not look back!
Would you now make it a point of concerted prayer to our Lord to keep this door open. The DA is not yet approved, neighbours are only just being engaged, the costings are not yet in, the money isn’t in the bank. There is a myriad of things to do, in a very tight schedule, if we are to have the facilities built and the school opened in 11 months. Please pray for God’s enabling and intervention to do the impossible.
This project seemed like an impossible dream in February. It was obvious to all involved that for the project to come to fruition it would take God’s sovereign work ruling and directing and multiplying our work. There was a clear acknowledgement that God would need to ‘move mountains’.
Three big ‘mountains’ are no longer looking as big as they were:
1. To get a DA approval in time for us to build was the immediate, and obvious, roadblock.
This week we received a letter indicating a number of conditions which need to be met prior to DA approval. We believe that we can meet all these conditions within the next few weeks. There was more good news in the letter. As there were no objections received from the community to our DA application, Willoughby Council’s Environmental Services have delegated authority to approve the DA upon meeting the conditions.
2. The DA approval is needed for us to register the ICCS as a K-2 school with the NSW Board of Studies. The deadline they have set for us to have the DA approval is the end of June. This seemed an impossible task as we weren’t expecting DA approval until mid to late July. With an approval by the end of June we are on track for the school to be registered for a 2014 start.
3. All these plans needed to be looked on favourably by the banks for us to get finances for the project. The complication is timing; we are planning all this in a year when we have a budgeted deficit. This week we received a favourable response to financing the project from our bank - NAB.
4. Preliminary discussions with builders have confirmed that it will be possible to complete the building works by mid-January 2014.
God is intervening and doing the impossible. There is still a myriad of things to do, in a very tight schedule, if we are to have the facilities built and the school opened in 7 months. I am fully aware that there are many ways the Lord can shut the door on this future if he pleases. For now the door is wide open, and we have been moving through it. May we continue to put our hands to the plow and not look back!
It seems right to repeat what I wrote at the end of the bulletin on the 24th February:
May the Lord guard our hearts and our ministries and our missions from distraction in these coming months. May we be driven deeper into God together, even while we deal with issues of property, buildings and finance. May the great vision of our majestic Father go before us, and may God do what seems good to him.
A worker for the owner,
Ray Kroc, founder of the Mc Donald’s fast food chain, is quoted as saying: ‘I speak of faith in Mc Donald’s as if it were a religion. I believe in God, the family and Mc Donald’s, and in the office the order is reversed.’ The Bible says that is lousy theology! The Christian can’t leave Jesus at the office door. No matter what your vocation, regardless of your title, your role, your salary packet, if you are a disciple of the Lord Jesus, he is the boss.
Let’s be reminded again of what Paul said to the church at Corinth: Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
Whatever our vocation in life, for the Christian, our primary vocation is that we are called by God. We are called to be a child of God. We are called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. This is our ultimate ‘job’ that never changes. I think this gives a sense of value and worth to those of us who struggle. It may be that ill health prevents paid employment, or you may be retired, or at a stage in life where raising children is your work. All Christians have a primary vocation: you are called by God to be his son/daughter, and a follower of the Lord Jesus.
A primary calling as a child of God impacts our specific day by day vocations (you would expect that given that there is not one square centimetre of this universe that doesn’t come under his sovereign rule). Unfortunately, we don’t always see God as our primary boss. It is not unusual to meet Christians who have moved their family from one side of the world to the other to change their job, but they will not think about praying about it or seeking the advice of people who care for them pastorally. This is compartmentalising our relationship with Jesus. It is leaving Jesus at the ‘office door’. Our primary vocation as disciples of the Lord Jesus is to permeate and influence all our lives, including our work.
Colossians 3 reminds us that whatever the work is that we do, we should do it in a way that reveals we ultimately work for the Lord:
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving...4:1 Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven (Colossians 3:23-24 & 4:1).
Verses 23 and 24 are written to ‘slaves’, and verse 24 is written to ‘masters’. In each case Paul takes them to a higher calling as they exercise their particular calling in life as slaves or masters -working for the Lord, and you also have a Master in heaven. Jesus is the boss whatever you do.
Whatever you do means that there is no room for ‘I’m just a full time mum.’ Whatever you do in the world of Christian work this week - driving a bus, filing, packing shelves, helping children with their homework, going to court, drawing up government policy, solving a tax problem, visiting a shut in, driving someone to a doctors appointment, minding grandchildren, burping a baby - whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Joyfully submitting to the Boss with you,
We finished Mission Month last week with a very clear charge from the pen of the Apostle Paul: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us (2 Corinthians 5:20).
The MESSAGE of reconciliation is what God did through Christ to bridge the gap between us and God - Jesus represented us in our sin on the cross and paid the price of our full debt against God. The MINISTRY of reconciliation is what God does through us. Those who are recipients of the message are charged with the ministry of proclaiming the message. In his death Jesus represented us, in his absence we represent him (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Doing nothing with your life - wiling away the hours until Jesus comes back - is not an option. If you have received the message of reconciliation then you’ve found a job for life. You are Christ’s ambassador and you have both work and words to deliver to Christ’s world.
When we think of a Christian ambassador we probably conjure up ideas of the gifted Christian evangelist turning a conversation on to the Lord Jesus quicker than anyone can say ‘No thanks, I’m an Atheist’. This kind of ambassador is not all of us, but we are all ambassadors of Christ (if we trust in Christ).
In our media dominated world it’s all too easy for secular people to regard Christian evangelists and preachers as just another breed of spin doctor. To modern people the Christian message of reconciliation lacks credibility unless we can show that it actually works in reality, that Christian faith engages with the real issues we face day by day. It is a great opportunity, a fantastic privilege and big challenge to be living the gospel in the nitty-gritty of our everyday relational environments.
I am convinced that Chatswood, and Australia, will never hear and respond to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ unless every Christian sees their whole life within the framework of being a representative of the Lord Jesus in the nitty gritty of our everyday relational environment. This makes sense. The key to the ministry of reconciliation is relationships. You don’t have to knock on doors, put on special events, invite people to an evangelistic talk. In our homes, work places, retirement villages, school, universities, community groups you don’t have to go out of your way to build relational bridges with people. The relationships are already there, it is just a matter of putting love into action through speech, attitudes and actions. Through sacrificial love we communicate the credibility & relevance of the gospel to every day life. But as words without deeds are empty, deeds without words are like bandaids on a broken leg. Hearts of compassion must compel us to a declaration of the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we commence a sermon series titled Thank God it’s Monday. My hope is that in the coming weeks we’ll begin to reconnect what we do on Sunday with the rest of our week and make us more effective ambassadors wherever God has placed us in life.
This sermon series will break new ground for most of us. A wall dividing the sacred and the secular life has dominated the Christian church for centuries. This divide is something that I have unknowingly contributed to. I have enjoyed having my thinking on this issue stretched and changed over the past year. As we tackle this unhelpful divide together in the coming weeks, I believe we will start to see our day by day activities within the light of God’s purposes for our lives, and be more invigorated to be his ambassadors.
Looking forward to being invigorated with you,
Last Sunday I was worshipping in Hong Kong with our link missionaries John and Janelle Menear. John & Janelle lead St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Kowloon. St Andrew’s is a large, evangelical, international church right on the edge of the most densely populated place on the planet (most of whom, it seemed, were trying to sell me a suit!).
St Andrew’s is at an exciting phase in it’s ministry to Kowloon and beyond. The latest ministry initiatives include: membership classes to build a stronger core group amongst the 1400 who regularly attend; parenting classes to shape a biblical view of parenting; a HK$155 million building project (about AUS$19.5 million).
The primary purpose of my visit was to spend time with John, and other staff, discussing leadership in an Asian context as an Anglo (of the 5 clergy, 4 are Anglo men). This is an area of leadership where I have felt the weakest. The time I spent with the key people at St Andrew’s was both informative and affirming. While I will always be learning and being shaped (even while in HK), I was encouraged again with 1 Corinthians 15:10 ringing loud in my heart: By the grace of God I am what I am.
Naturally, the St Andrew’s building project was of significant interest to me. The new Life Centre will consist of a number of levels and include an auditorium that will seat close to 900. The new building will be at street level, and visible to the multitude of people who pass by each day. This will be a very significant change from the current facilities (even people who live around the corner don’t know there is a church there). The extra space is desperately needed, mainly for the many ministries that flow out of their corporate worship times. It was also encouraging to see that they were thinking about how to be visible, and keep pace with their changing ministry context.
On that last point, I would suggest that St Andrew’s has taken some bold steps to move forward. Back in 2009 they launched their own 2020 Vision. The vision to see lives, many lives, transformed by the Lord Jesus is embodied in the development of their ministry base. They are seeking to be bold in the way they connect with Hong Kong and in the way they are seeking to build committed disciples of the Lord Jesus. I think the Life Centre project reflects their commitment to 2020 Vision and Kowloon. Some significant steps of faith have been already taken. For instance, the construction process of the new Life Centre has commenced with only half the money raised so far. Another indicator for me is that even though they have 4 times more people attending church each week than we do, their income is about 3 times ours...and they are doing a building project that is costing approximately 13 times more than what ours is expected to be! I said to John on his balcony overlooking the project, “that’s gutsy!”, maybe I should have said, “that’s faithful leadership!”
Although the ministry at St Andrew’s is in a different context, and at a different stage, there are so many similarities. St Andrew’s and St Paul’s are very similar in age, we have similar evangelical heritages, we are both Anglican, we are both multicultural and multi-generational, we both have a Vision for ministry to 2020. The other very significant similarity that became obvious to me - we are both flawed. Finances are not what is needed, commitment could be better, conflict happens on non-essentials, families are struggling, sin is obvious. I was reminded again of my own imperfection and weakness, as I heard about others.
In spite of all those things, God is at work in his church. Lives are being transformed. People are encouraged. Jesus is honoured. I am thankful for the gospel.
Thank you for the opportunity to be stretched and affirmed,
The week in America was a hugely encouraging time for me, the opportunity to sit under a whole heap of bible teaching was a significant blessing. I suspect the things God has been teaching me and the work He has been doing on my heart will come out more fully over the next few weeks, months and years, but I wanted to share a few things to encourage you anyway.
More than anything else during the conference I felt God was telling me that He loves me, it sounds simple, but I know for myself there are times where I am ashamed of things I have done and it takes me a long time to feel safe enough in God’s love and forgiveness to confess my failures and hand them over. I fear that this tendency causes me to be harsh in the way that I teach and minister to you. My doubting God’s love for me, causes me to hold you to the same legalistic standards. If you have felt judged or looked down on by me I am deeply sorry and pray that the love Jesus has for you will give you unshakeable confidence in the love of your heavenly Father.
I was also challenged to recognise the struggle that is serving God in a world that is opposed to him. It is unwise to think life as Christians will be easy, and if we are to take the message of the gospel to the world we should expect opposition. But the great joy is that Jesus is more than worth it. A week reflecting on the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has been so refreshing, there is no one more majestic or glorious than Jesus and He has drawn unworthy sinners like you and me into his family.
I am reminded and blessed to remember that I am a son first and a pastor second, as I labour with all the strength that God gives me, in times of plenty and of need I rejoice because I know I am loved by my heavenly father, and nothing can change that.
I am encouraged to remember that our God is building His church, our God is seeking the lost and it is He alone who can and will save lost people. It is our joy and our privilege to be a part of His work in bringing dead people to life. I am challenged and excited to be more prayerful, more dependent on God and more thankful to Him.
One of the greatest encouragements of the conference was the call to find joy in God and joy in doing his work, it is my prayer that my heart will find overflowing joy in God, such that people are drawn to the hope that I have. And that I might have the same joy that God and His angels do when lost people are brought home.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be refreshed and thank you for the opportunity to journey with you as we seek and serve God together.
Sam - Focus Pastor 5pm
This word from Jesus is a very inspiring missions promise:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
Note that it is not this gospel should be preached, or this gospel might be preached, but this gospel will be preached. This is not a great commission, or a great commandment. It is a great certainty, and a great confidence.
How does Jesus know it will? How can he be sure the church will not fail in its mission task? The answer must be that the grace of mission service is as irresistible as the grace of salvation. Christ can promise universal proclamation because he is sovereign. He knows the future success of mission because he makes the future. All the nations will hear!
A nation is not the same as a modern country with political and geographic boundaries (although nearly all of them had those boundaries). When the Old Testament speaks of nations it referred to groups like Jebusites and Perizites and Hivites and Amorites and Moabites and Canaanites and Philistines, etc. The nations are ethnic groups with their own particular culture.
God’s desire is for the nations to know, treasure and represent Jesus. Another way to say it is that the goal of all God’s purposes is for people from every tribe, language, and generation to worship him. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him (Psalm 22:27).
As the sovereign Son of God and Lord of the church, Jesus simply took up this divine purpose and stated as an absolute certainty: this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations.
The church’s mission task is absolutely assured of success. It cannot fail. Is it not reasonable, then, that we pray with great faith, that we invest with great confidence, and that we labour with a sense of final triumph? It’s a great promise from a sovereign God.
Today we begin our annual Mission Month where we take the time to focus our attention on bringing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to those who don’t know him. The preaching over the next four weeks will be focussed on 2 Corinthians 4 & 5. In these chapters Paul speaks with confidence of God’s purposes being fulfilled while at the same time revealing a sense of weakness and weariness. These chapters should be a great encouragement to us who feel weak, weary, disheartened or even skeptical about God fulfilling his purposes - especially amongst our closest neighbours, colleagues, friends and family.
Mission Month will have both a local and global mission focus this year. We will hear from speakers representing two local organisations, Streetwork and Cottage Counselling, as well as from two of our link missionaries, the Lubbock family and the Khlentzos family.
The end of Mission Month will not see us pledging mission support as per previous years. It seems to me that the best place for this is on Commitment Sunday at the end of November. Instead, we will be seeking to raise $9000 for three specific external projects. The three projects are: $3000 for Streetwork, $3000 for Cottage Counselling & $3000 for Chris Jones teaching PTC in Africa, and the sponsoring of pastors to attend.
Labouring with confidence,
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men . . . And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day—I mean that, brothers--just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”. . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:19, 30-32, 20)
Paul thinks about how he would assess his current Christian lifestyle if there were no resurrection from the dead. He says it would be ridiculous! The resurrection caused him to do things which would be ludicrous without the hope of resurrection.
Paul considers the extent of his self-denial and says, I die every day. This is Paul’s experience of what Jesus said in Luke 9:23: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. I take this to mean that no day was without Paul putting to death some kind of desire.
We get a picture of this ‘putting to death’ in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 when he compares his lifestyle to that of his opponents - the ‘super apostles’:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Paul concludes that the life he has chosen in following Jesus is foolish if he will not be raised from the dead: If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. In other words, only the resurrection with Christ and the joys of eternity can make sense out of all this suffering. If death were the end of the matter, he says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” That is not what Paul chooses. He chooses suffering, because he chooses obedience.
What was the source of Paul’s radical obedience? The answer is given in 1 Corinthians 15:20: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. In other words, Christ was raised, and I will be raised with him. Therefore, nothing suffered for Jesus is in vain.
The hope of the resurrection radically changed the way Paul lived. It freed him to go without things that many people feel they must have in this life. This he did because of the resurrection. This is a radical call for us to look hard at out present lives to see if they are shaped by the hope of the resurrection. Do we make decisions on the basis of gain in this world or gain in the next? Do we take risks for love’s sake that can only be explained as wise if there is a resurrection? Do we lose heart when our bodies give way to the aging process, and we have to admit that we will never do certain things again. Or do we look to the resurrection and take heart? Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
May we re-dedicate ourselves during this Easter season to a lifetime of letting the resurrection have its radical effects.