STICKING IT OUT

“I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me”.

1 Cor 16:8, 9 NIV

Not all Christian leaders are tough fighters. Many are quiet, peaceable souls who specialise in harmonising different points of view and avoiding conflict. Some believe that “It’s nice to be nice”. And some are so Christ-like that no one could ever clash with them.

Paul was tough. He had a towering intellect that thought his way through both knotty issues and complicated problems. He had come from a strict Jewish background and, in being claimed and called by Christ, he knew that he had to renounce the prominence his former faith ascribed to the Jewish law. But not all new Christians thought like that in those early years. They thought they could “mix and match” the two. And there developed an intense rivalry between the new Christian faith and the old Jewish faith. This difference led to strongly competitive attitudes on both sides. It caused much animosity. Paul was right at the centre of this storm and his phrase “many oppose me” could well have been referring to this problem. But he did not shy away from the arguments and disputes.

He knew that Christianity was fighting for its very life. It could easily have merged back into Judaism. On top of his tireless missionary and church-building activities, he managed to keep his nerve and see the issue through to finality. Sadly, the early disputes have led to ongoing suspicions between the Christian and Jewish faiths. These are much less intense now than they were and representative leaders of the two faiths have often stood shoulder to shoulder in campaigns for justice and peace.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, bless the children of Israel who serve you in their way.

SATAN NEVER SLEEPS

“I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me”.

1 Cor 16:8, 9 NIV

Many years ago there was a movie entitled “Satan never Sleeps”. Whatever the movie was about, the title certainly states a fact. However comfortable and self-satisfied the disciples of Jesus may become, Satan is always seeking to push the door open and get to work.

Along with the wonderful opportunity that Ephesus provided Paul for preaching, teaching, pastoring and church building, other forces were at work – hard at work. The coming of the gospel of Jesus Christ brought a crisis in prosperous Ephesus. The popular local deity the whole city worshipped was called Artemis. She was the goddess of love and that spelt business for the local prostitutes. A flourishing trade also followed for the silversmiths of Ephesus who made small silver statuettes of the goddess and sold these far and wide. Their business was threatened as the gospel of Jesus Christ called for sexual chastity. The silversmiths decided they could not sit idly by whilst their livelihood was threatened and trouble ensued as they tried to drive Paul and the Christian community out of the city.

When Christian leaders and the Christian church are not only talking about Jesus Christ, but living the life he demanded, and furthermore are seeking to influence society for the better, trouble, conflict and even violence are likely to be the consequence. When commercial interests are threatened or political prejudices are questioned, it means that Christians are “on the ball” and Satan is experiencing a hard time. Take courage and oppose him in your town or city.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help us to give Satan a hard time.

EFFECTIVE WORK

“I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me”.

1 Cor 16:8, 9 NIV

In his parable of the sower Jesus told how some of the seed fell on good ground and “brought forth a good crop, a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matt 13:8 NIV). Paul found that, when he went sowing at Ephesus, it was on good soil. He stayed longer there than anywhere else. “Paul is describing the situation during his two and a half years at Ephesus, recounted in Acts 19 … One of the main reasons for his long stay was the number of openings for the gospel he discovered. He ‘dialogued’ daily in a public lecture-room, the hall of Tyrannus, which he used during the midday siesta period. As a result of this public teaching, the whole of the province of Asia ‘heard the word of the Lord’ – a wide-open door indeed. It seems likely that Epaphras, a resident of Colossae in the Asian hinterland (modern day Turkey) was converted to Christ during his lunch-breaks from his business in the city. He then returned home and founded churches, not just in his home-town, but in the neighbouring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Not surprisingly, Luke (the author of Acts) tells us that “the word of the Lord prevailed mightily in Ephesus. Paul talked eloquently of the thorough, sacrificial, and costly ministry which he pursued in Ephesus: the account is in his farewell speech to the elders of the church at Miletus” (in Acts 20:17 ff) (D. Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians, p281).

Look to exploit to the Lord’s advantage those opportunities which present themselves to your Christian community. Encourage those who can take advantage of these opportunities.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, prosper your work in our Christian community.

PLANNING AHEAD

“Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go”.

1 Cor 16: 6 NIV

A professional man, head of an engineering firm, said, “In the first week of January I get my secretary to book my flights for the year. I leave Durban, where our head office is, on a Tuesday morning and fly to Johannesburg. I visit the office there and check on progress in our projects. I stay overnight there then fly to Cape Town to see how things are going there. I stay there on Wednesday night then fly back to Durban on Thursday. I do it every week, but it’s easy to cancel a flight if I don’t need to go”. That was planning ahead!

Paul could not “hop on a plane” and then “pop back quickly”. Travelling was slow and difficult. But still he planned ahead because he knew of the difficulties in the various cities where he had planted churches. And there were people bringing letters and messages – or going in his stead. He managed to keep in touch, such was the all-absorbing task of building up those churches he had started on his missionary journeys. And the arduous work of sorting out all their problems was extremely demanding. And there was no New Testament to refer to for guidance – he was still busy writing a lot of it. And the gospels that we have had not yet been written either. It was a hands-on system.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostle planned ahead. He also depended on God for guidance “on the spot”. And he reasoned out the meaning of the gospel of Jesus in relation to each situation he encountered.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, bless all those church leaders who carry heavy responsibilities.

A TRAVELING MINISTRY

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you”.

1 Cor 16:5 NIV

Some years ago a movement developed in the United States churches known as “The Church Growth Movement”. They observed what happened in churches that do grow. Then they said, “This is how to make your church grow”. One of the characteristics of growing churches, so they said, was that the ministers stay a long time.

Presumably Paul the apostle would take issue with such a claim. He travelled, visiting and re-visiting churches and communities where he had established churches. He clearly wrote this first letter to his Corinthian friends during a long stay at Ephesus. The new churches needed much guidance. There were many teachings to sort out – pointing out the faults in wrong teachings that had crept in, and giving advice, guidance and sound teaching in order to build up the new disciples in their faith. There were also plenty of disputes that required resolving. Paul also needed to train other leaders and ministers to carry on the work when he had moved on. In addition he needed to exercise pastoral care, both of the members and especially of the leaders.

We see this kind of ministry and leadership in those churches which have regional leaders, such as bishops or moderators. Many problems arise in the work of God and the local leaders often require the guidance and encouragement of older, more experienced and wiser ministers. Satan has a habit of making a beeline for churches and causing trouble. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the introduction of love and care, the focus on the Bible – all these are needed to enable God to work in the community and to bring healing and wholeness. And the church grew under Paul’s constant travels and repeated visits!

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, enable our church community to grow and bring glory to you.

SAFEGUARDING INTEGRITY

“Put it in safekeeping … When I get there you’ll have it ready, and I won’t have to make a special appeal. Then after I arrive I’ll write letters authorizing whomever you delegate, and send them off to Jerusalem to deliver your gift. If you think it best that I go along, I’ll be glad to travel with them”.

Matt 28:12, 13, 14 NIV

One church tried to get its ministers to be more responsible in the handling of money. They ordered the trainee ministers to undergo a course in bookkeeping. Not all the trainees entered into the study with enthusiasm. Encouraging them to apply themselves more keenly the supervisor said, “Remember, the work of God will suffer much more quickly from bad money management than it will from bad theology”. A lack of integrity on the part of those handling God’s money soon creates a scandal – and deters people from generous giving. And nothing can be taken for granted.

Paul knew the frailty of human nature and how rigorous control had to be exercised in handling the collection “for the saints” in Jerusalem. No doubt the trouble with Judas Iscariot was widely known throughout the church. Paul wanted the Corinthian community to choose their own delegates to take the money to Jerusalem, and he volunteered to accompany them himself as an additional safeguard. Wise and strong administration is an indispensable component in the management of money.

It is important to entrust these duties to people with known reliability. An excellent way to present a “clean sheet” to a community of believers is to append a copy of the financial statement in a public place, such as the church entrance or foyer where everyone can see it. Integrity in these things brings glory to God.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help us to be scrupulously careful in handling your money.

GIVE REGULARLY AND SYSTEMATICALLY

“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income”.

1 Cor 16:2 NIV

Some Christian leaders teach their members that they should give generously to their church and the more they give to their church, the more God will bless them. “If you want to be prosperous, increase your contribution to the church”. Some believers have responded to this kind of appeal and some have seen their incomes increase. Some have not experienced any change in their income at all. Some have been bitterly disappointed. How much people should give has been a sore point for a long time. Nowhere does the New testament say that people should give one tenth, although the Old Testament does. Some churches set this as a standard for their people.

Paul’s guidance to the Corinthian believers was that they received their income on a regular weekly basis and they should likewise give to God a regular gift. The idea was “God gives to you regularly, so you must give back to him regularly”. The principle Jesus spelt out was indicated in his attitude to the widow who put her two mites in the collection plate at the temple in Jerusalem. What he said, in effect, was, “The more it costs you, the greater your love”. And many people, including many poor people, have found that the more generous they have been with their money, the more money has somehow come their way. Giving is practical Christianity. It is something everyone can do. It is an expression of love in action. Some disciples can do very little else and express their love for Jesus in this generous way. God bless them!

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord show me how to give until it hurts.

DON’T FORGET THE COLLECTION

“Now about the collection for God’s people”.

1 Cor 16:1 NIV

Today the complaint is often made that “religion has become too commercialised”. It is true that the financial side of the Christian community’s overall communal life plays a larger and more overt role than it did, say fifty years ago. Then stipends of ministers were more or less standardised whereas today levels of pay are often negotiated by each individual minister without any embarrassment or shame. And allowances to ministers are by far the largest component in most church budgets.

Paul does not beat about the bush or apologise when calling on the Corinthian church to organise a collection. But ministers’ pay was not the purpose of the collection. In Jerusalem there were many poor Christian believers and a drought with the attendant famine was expected. When the apostles went out they deemed it their responsibility to seek assistance for the Jerusalem church in its ministry of compassion towards those in need. They were all brothers and sisters in Christ and they knew that Christ wanted them to help each other. The collection Paul wanted from the Corinthians was purely for compassionate assistance and not for church expenses. He tried to make them understand that this was an obligation of their discipleship. To believe in Christ, to follow in his ways and live his abundant life implied a financial commitment to Christ for the benefit of his people. There were no denominational hierarchies soaking up large amounts of money as there are today. To give for the relief of the poor and those affected by the famine was an act of love. They had freely received life and salvation. They wanted to give freely and generously in return.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, make me a willing and happy giver.

NEVER A WASTE OF TIME

“Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort”.

1 Cor 15:58 EHP

Some things are a waste of time. A young man was conscripted into his country’s military at the age of eighteen. There was no war, but the government deemed a military threat to be possible. After the mandatory two years was over he said, “What a silly waste of time. That was the longest, slowest, most boring two years I’ve ever spent. We had one day’s real work about once in two or three weeks. We spent a lot of time trying to find something to do so that we weren’t caught doing nothing. I spent more time drawing up charts to mark the passage of the days than I did doing work. Heaven only knows what it cost the government to pay for it all”.

Good churches are alive and are constantly making demands on their members. Christian disciples need to choose which, of all the options available to them would serve the Lord the most effectively. For many disciples the problem is how not to get so involved that they neglect family life and even personal devotions. Many of the roles to be filled in the Christian community become very fulfilling. A man with financial expertise was once asked to take over the duty of Church treasurer. He did it conscientiously. Three years later he said, “You know, I find that I have grown spiritually since I’ve been doing this task”. A few years later he volunteered to become a lay preacher and conducted services. The more enthusiastically you work for the Lord, the fuller and richer your life will become.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, fill m y life with meaningful ministry and service.

GIVE IT YOUR BEST SHOT

“Throw yourselves into the work of the Master”.

1 Cor 15:58 EHP

Some people have an idea that if they are doing something for God it is a holy thing and that excellence in human terms is unimportant. They say, “But it’s for the Lord – he’ll understand”. Nothing could be further from the truth. All Christian leaders need to be on their guard against such nonsense and quash it at the first mention of anything remotely like it. If it’s for the Lord it should be done with the best possible skill and thoroughness. If it’s for the Lord of glory – only the best is good enough.

Some things, however, are done with vigour and enthusiasm. Others are done with reluctance and almost grudgingly. Few things are more contagious than enthusiasm. It’s what gets things done. Wilson Weldon said, “Some years ago I was on the campus of the Martha Berry School near Rome, Georgia. I recalled Martha Berry’s words when others were criticizing her: ‘I believe in having big plans. I furnish the enthusiasm and friends help carry them through. They say I have too much enthusiasm for a woman of my age. Well, I hope I never lose it” (Upper Room Disciplines 1967, p159).

If you are doing something in the work of the Lord, give it your best shot, both in terms of the quality of the deed or ministry, and in the vigour and enthusiasm you pour into it. Sometimes the enthusiasm of an ordinarily gifted person will spark off enthusiasm in a highly gifted person and that person will then go on and do even better things than the one who got him going in the first place. Be a “spark plug”. Get things going.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, help me to get things going.