There is a lot happening in my life right now that is making it difficult to write posts for this blog, but I am trying. However, during this period, I've had another opportunity to preach, and that is now available below! Video captured by Stephen Hemenway, audio edited by Quenton Chestang-Pittman, video edited by me.
I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a point in the sermon that I am aware I did not adequately clarify when delivering it, regarding church membership and participating in mission. I stated at one point in the sermon that if the mission God has called an individual to and the mission of their church do not align, they should ask if they are at the right church. I stand by that statement, but I did not give any indication on what to look for when considering that issue, which feels irresponsible of me in hindsight. I do, however, have more room to explore that issue here than I would have as a tertiary point in a sermon, and I intend to take advantage of that fact.
What I mean by that statement is this: if God has called a person to a specific work, and called a person to a specific church body, then the person is also called to contribute to the specific mission that church is tasked with, and certainly not to hinder it. Likewise, the church is called to contribute to the specific mission the person is called to, and certainly not to hinder it. The Biblical statements about every member of the church needing every other member and every part of the body having a necessary function attest to this. If that is true, then it must also be true that a person who feels called to a mission that hinders, or is hindered by, the mission of their church is either on the wrong mission or at the wrong church or, in some hopefully more rare occasions, the church has the wrong mission; and it is vitally important that they find out which it is and correct it. The question is how to do that.
The first step is always going to be prayer and scripture, by the way. Going to God for wisdom and clarity, digging into the Bible for anything that may grant that wisdom and clarity, and earnestly listening for Him to speak will be necessary if you want an honest, usable answer. Every piece of advice that follows assumes you are only implementing it after spending some time in prayer and the scriptures. Also remember that this is only advice; the Bible does not give us a check list for this, and I can only share as much wisdom as I have so far.
The mission for which you are called is one which you, powered by the Holy Spirit, can do. This doesn't necessarily mean it is one you can finish, but it is certainly one you can perform for the season in which you are called to it. This simple statement gives us a few key things to look for:
Consider Moses. His gifting and skills enabled him to lead a large body of people, to judge fairly and honorably, to write the texts they would need going forward, and to face great trials. His interest in protecting his fellow children of Jacob enabled him to see their need and desire to find some freedom for them. His life experiences gave him access to Pharaoh, knowledge of the Midian desert, the skills he used leading Israel, and an unshakable faith that God would do exactly what He said He would do. His difficulty at speech meant he needed always to lean on God for his words and on his brother to deliver them, and his willingness to run when things got hairy meant he had to rely on God to be the example of strong leadership Israel needed.
Note first that this advice is only about mission compatibility. Nothing said in the sermon or here should be taken as an encouragement to leave a church over differences in style or preference. There may be times when you must leave a church for other reasons, and some of what follows may help in those situations, but this section is for a specific issue and should not be generalized.
Some initial questions:
If none of these resolve the issue (and sometimes even if they do), you need to talk to the church leadership. The exact person will vary based on your church's leadership structure and your relationships to them, but identify someone in a position to handle your questions and who you feel comfortable receiving honest answers from. Ideally, you will have been already talking to this person while analyzing your calling.
Personal mission and church mission do not have to be identical to be compatible. Our church hosts a growing food pantry which some members feel strongly called to lead or participate in; the mission statement of the church does not include that, but it does serve the church's mission goal of serving the community in a Christ-centered way that enables opportunities for us to share the gospel. Take the time to find out whether or not your calling and the church mission are actually incompatible. It is entirely possible that the church leadership will know about directions the church is going, ministry opportunities, or just detail about the mission that you don't know for one reason or another, and they can point you to a way to do what you are called to do under the umbrella of the church's mission. It is, in fact, entirely possible that what you are called to do is something that doesn't exist at the church yet because they are waiting for someone called to do it.
Seek ways to serve. Use your spiritual gifts under the guidance of the church and for the building up of the body. As much as possible, seek ways to be an active, contributing part of what your church is doing. But if all of this is not working, and it becomes apparent that you are simply not built for what the church is doing, then it may be time to prayerfully look into places where you can be active and invested.
Look, regardless of the church leadership structure where you are, the fact is that God puts leaders in His churches for a reason. The actual task of analyzing this matter should be handled primarily by the church leadership. By calling them to leadership, God has also called them to see the mission and push forward in that; and by becoming a member of a church, everyone else has submitted themselves to trust the leadership to do exactly that. There are times when questioning or even challenging the leadership is necessary, but if it is a habit or something you feel no hesitation to do, going to God about your relationship to leadership should come before your challenge is delivered.
That being said, when the leadership revisits the church mission, it will generally follow pretty similar steps to those for analyzing personal calling, with the additional understanding that church missions are generally paired with church visions; the latter being where the church is going, and the former being how it will get there. Wise church leaders will look at how the people God has called to that body can do a work that uses the available gifts, skills, and interests to engage with the church's context to participate in a work that only God can bring to fruit.
After all, the Christ Paul is seeking to imitate will color everything about our own attempts to wrestle with his words. I fear we tend to forget this because, so often, Paul is seen primarily as a theologian, a man who wrote treatises that we must dissect and systematically piece back together, a collection of important doctrines written for our education. But this is not the Paul of Acts, or even of his epistles. The Paul we have recorded in the Bible is a missionary and pastor, concerned with the spiritual and physical well-being of those he meets and pointing them to Christ. Even his most detailed doctrinal passages are not written to seminary students but to struggling believers that he is attempting to help and guide. He is feeding sheep, not arguing from an armchair, and that which he feeds those sheep is always Christ. Everything he says goes back to the Christ who has given him the call to ministry, the Christ who appeared to him on the road outside of Damascus, the Christ who showed him all he must suffer while he sat blind in a stranger's home.
There is a surprising lack of material on Paul's understanding of Christ, considering this is the very foundation upon which everything else we have of him is built. In seeking resources for this, I found only two books that spilled any ink on Paul's understanding of Christ, and one was citing the other. If there are journal articles that handle this matter in any detail, they were lost in hundreds of pages of results that seemed to exclusively contain more doctrinal arguments than anything. Paul urges strangers to encounter Christ, he tells his readers to look to Christ in all they do, he strives to live a life that can be rightly said to be Christ living through him. If we treat Paul as a theologian writing doctrine in a vacuum, we will get a lot of very good theology, but we will miss the point of what Paul was trying to communicate. In all things, Paul is writing about Christ.
“Pauline Christianity forms the heritage of western Christianity to this day, and therefore it is all the more important to understand as fully as possible Paul’s conception of Jesus Christ.”
Stanley E. Porter, "Images of Christ in Paul's Letters," in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, and David Tombs (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 96.
Some notes on content before we begin. This post places Hebrews outside the corpus of Pauline writings. There is no statement about authorship being made by this. The origins of this post come from a New Testament survey class that centered on Acts and the Pauline epistles that did not include Hebrews; the decision was somewhat made for me. That being said, I probably could have included Hebrews if I really wanted, but I don't think attempting to would have had much benefit. While much is said of Christ in Hebrews that may have been useful, the attempts to explain its inclusion when there is no consensus of authorship would surely occupy more space than this topic can really spare for it. This may be influenced by my own opinion that Paul did not write Hebrews, but that seems like a matter for another post entirely.
Also, while I identified a host of passages about the work of Christ and His current status in regards to the present age, this post will focus entirely on the actual nature of Christ, whether eternal or incarnational. I am hoping to cover the other passages over the course of summer break, and now that I think about it I'd like to do a similar study as this with other Bible authors. May God grant me time on this Earth to write everything I want to write about this.
The initial limiting factor for my research into this project was that, whatever Paul may be directly talking about in a passage, the passage must say something specific about Christ in the process. As it turns out, calling Jesus Lord or Christ is saying something important about who He is, but I had to trim away any passage where that was the only thing that was being said about Him because it was nearly impossible to sift through everything with that pile mixed in. Except the passage above, which I kept just so Philemon wouldn't go ignored if I'm honest.
The fact is, Paul almost never says the name of Jesus without appending a title, either Lord or Christ in our translations. This is the most fundamental truth of who Jesus is as far as Paul is concerned: he is God, and every mention of Him is apparently lacking if it does not in some way acknowledge that fact. This is, in fact, the first thing he learns about Jesus during his conversion; in Acts 9:5, Paul recognizes that whoever is speaking to him is certainly the Lord, but asks for further identification. When he receives the answer that this Lord is none other than Jesus, he immediately obeys Him. This fact will inform everything else Paul ever says or does concerning Jesus. Clarifying what it means for Jesus to be Lord, then, will tell us a great deal about everything else.
“What is perhaps even more noteworthy, however, is that there are a number of passages where Paul appears to apply Old Testament passages referring to the Lord to the figure of Jesus Christ.”
Stanley E. Porter, "Images of Christ in Paul's Letters," in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, and David Tombs (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 101.
While this would be best addressed in length elsewhere, Paul also consistently takes the Jewish idea of the Day of the Lord and ties it to the return of Christ; he even goes so far in Philippians to refer to this as the Day of Christ (1:6, 10, 2:16). Not only is Christ to be given the title of Lord, but the ultimate victory of God is understood through the lens of being the ultimate victory of Christ.
The God of Israel was never like the gods of the surrounding lands. There was no image of Him, no statues decorating their landscapes and homes bearing the face of divinity. They were, in fact, forbidden from even attempting to display Him. Nevertheless, this was a God who sought a relationship with His people, maintaining access at His temple and carrying on conversation with and through prophets. Moses, seeking a deeper relationship, asked to see God, only to be informed that to see His face would kill the man; he was allowed to see, at most, the divine back.
It emphasizes, however, how deeply relational this God is. It was not enough to show His people only a temple, or a mercy seat, or a fleeting glimpse of His back. He had to walk with us, dine with us, cry with us. The God that Paul knows in Christ is driven to reveal Himself to us as much as possible, ultimately promising to dwell with us forever.
“In that sense images of Christ are for Paul also in some ways images of God.”
Son of God
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
This is no light language, either. A lot of the terminology Paul uses for Jesus play into positions of authority across the full spectrum of time. Whether this is about preeminence or calling Him firstborn or heir of God (Romans 8:16-17, 29; Colossians 1:18; etc.), describing Him as the head/husband of the church and all things (Ephesians 1:19-23, 4:15; Romans 12:4-5; etc.), or the supreme judge and ruler at the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; etc.), Paul regularly views Christ as bearing the full authority of God.
But the work the Father had for the Son was not to take place entirely on a throne in Heaven.
Jesus was the fulfillment of a great number of promises, and two of them relate to His ancestry. The first is that He was to be a descendant of Abraham, which Paul identifies as true of Him (Romans 9:3-5, Galatians 3:16). The other is that He was the son of David that would sit forever on the throne (Acts 13:22-23, Romans 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:8). His specific family is noted in Galatians 1:19, where He is stated as the brother of James.
The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
“In summarizing this passage, we can see that several of the Pauline christological images are maintained. He uses the composite name, Christ Jesus, to describe both earthly and exalted status and events, with the figure moving between them. Although he is seen to be in the appearance of God, and equal with him in some way, Jesus Christ also is subordinate to him, being obedient to the point of death and consequently being exalted by him to a position of preeminence in the universe.”
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Gods At War
Gospel Of John
Gospel Of Matthew
Small Town Summits
Stanley E Porter
The Good Place
Who Is Jesus