Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

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Cross-Shaped Leadership
reprinted from the December 2004 edition of Essentials


   In this room sits the future of this country. Andy Prideaux worships at Holy Trinity Doncaster in Melbourne
and works for the Melbourne University Christian Union.


   You are among the most gifted and intelligent students this country knows.
   You have what it takes to make this world a better place, to make things happen, not just sit back and watch them happen.
   You can, nay, you should be part of the solution not part of the problem: because you are the leaders of tomorrow, and the future of this country. Indeed the future of the church in this land rests upon your shoulders.
  How did you respond to this classic 'pep-talk'? Did you think, "Yes, that's what the leaders of the church of tomorrow need to hear?" Or were you embarrassed, inwardly cringing?
   2 Corinthians is a letter written out of a conflict situation amongst God's people. Paul is in conflict with leaders who are coming in from outside the Corinthian church, but are having an enormous influence on their theology, and so inevitably, their practice. In fact in their eyes, Christ's Apostle Paul, called of God to bring his gospel to the Gentiles, is seen by these 'Super-Apostles' as insipid, weak, and even unspiritual - Why? Because he preaches (as Paul's first letter to the Corinthians has already made clear) an apparently weak and insipid gospel: "We preach Christ crucified: A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1Cor.1:23). These false apostles can also point to Paul's suffering, his struggles, the opposition he faced inside and outside the church, as evidence of an unempowered and unenlightened ministry; and conversely, to their own polished and impressive ministry and message of power as clearly superior (cf 2Cor.10:13-15; 11:4-6, 15, 22; 12:11). How would Paul respond to these charges levelled against him and the gospel God had given him to preach? By once again preaching Christ crucified, and by exemplifying and recommending the cross-shaped ministry that all bearers of this message should have if they truly have fellowship with Christ. These talks were originally presented on a leadership camp in July 2002.
   Serving through Suffering (2 Cor.1:1-11)   
   As Christians we need to remember that we are and continue to be weak and helpless sinners who are saved, kept, and used by a powerful God. God comforts us in our troubles ultimately through the gospel, so that we can comfort others in their struggles for the sake of Christ. In this way, Christians are marked out from the world around them, not in the way that they are able to transcend troubles and suffering, but in the way that they share in the sufferings of Christ, and so also in His comfort. Therefore, Paul is not embarrassed by the charges of weakness which the false apostles bring against him. Rather, he boasts in his weakness, because it points beyond him to where his and every believer's hope is ultimately placed: Not in our power, but on him who will deliver us, ultimately even from death!   
   Motivation in Ministry (2 Cor.1:12-2:11)   
   Why we serve God and His people is just as important to God as actually doing these things. The reality of sin in our lives sadly often distorts our motivation, even for doing good things like sharing the gospel. Paul's reputation as an Apostle and a gospel minister has come under attack. Paul responds by inviting the Corinthians to look at his life, to see that he has not acted nor written in a way that is deceptive. He has a 'what you see/ what you read is what you get,' attitude. The Corinthians can trust in Paul and his message, because it is marked out not by human wisdom, but by God's grace. His is a ministry according to God's Spirit not the flesh. The Corinthians can have confidence that these things are true of their Apostle, because they can see that his method is motivated and shaped by the love of Christ, and that his message is Jesus Christ: The YES to all God's promises.   
   The Glory of Gospel Ministry (2 Cor. 2:12-3:18)   
   Perhaps the greatest enemy to genuine gospel ministry is alternative gospels. We are attracted to them because they promise to enable believers to bypass the hard parts of trusting in and living for Christ (especially suffering for Jesus' sake), and because they seem to get results. Alternative gospels generally try to add things to the message of Christ crucified and raised from the dead. It seems that the 'Super apostles' were keen to return to what they saw as the glory days of the old covenant: Moses on Sinai seems far more exciting than Christ on Calvary. In response, Paul teaches the Corinthians some biblical theology: while the old covenant's glory was real, it was also fading as it anticipated the new and superior covenant in fulfilment of the old. This New Covenant is established through Christ's death for sins, and is applied now, not through the letter of the Law, but by the Spirit who is at work in every believer. Therefore, while the old covenant could only ever bring condemnation because of sin, the New Covenant brings righteousness, as Christ has dealt with our sin (c/f.2 Cor. 5:21). Often we are tempted to be ashamed of the gospel because it seems weak and ineffectual. Because it announces God's judgement on sin, as well as the reality of His salvation, it is also deeply offensive to human egos. But in this passage, we are reminded of the superior nature of the gospel of Christ, and so of the ministry that is centred around proclaiming it. What the world needs now is not more human religion or moral codes, endlessly turning us back in on ourselves, but Christ who brings true freedom in God, and by his Spirit transforms us so that we increasingly come to be more like Him.   
   Perseverance in Gospel Ministry (2Cor.4:1-19)   
   Gospel ministry is hard work, both because people are naturally unresponsive to the gospel, and because the world that hates Christ, as Jesus Himself promised, also hates his people (cf. John 15:18-21). In the world today many lose their lives for the sake of Christ. While this is not as common in our country, there are many other sacrifices in terms of wealth, lifestyle and reputation that we must make daily. How does one persevere in the face of this? In 4:1-6 Paul emphasises three things:   
   1. The need to have gospel integrity - we have renounced secret and shameful ways.... we do not deceive or distort God's word, setting forth the truth plainly … we commend ourselves to every person's conscience (4:2).   
   2. The need to be a gospel realist - The reality of minds that are blinded by the devil (2 Cor 4:4 cf minds that are dull, and hearts that are hard in sin cf ch.3) means that nobody wants to become a Christian, nor can they do so by human effort, skill or intelligence (cf.4:3-4). When people don't want to listen to the Bible being taught, let alone believe in its message, we should not give in to the temptation to water down or change our message, or be shocked to the point of despondency.   
   3. The need to be a gospel optimist - We can't change people, they can't change themselves, but God can and does. Even as He brought light out of darkness when He created the world, so too he makes his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Christians are part of God's New Creation (2 Cor 5:17-18). This, of course, is why we don't preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as LORD (4:5), and why we continually rely upon the strength of the LORD in prayer (cf.1:11). In the rest of this chapter we discover that Christians are called to die with Christ so that they will also live with him. We do not lose heart, because even as we share in Christ's suffering and death, we will also share in his resurrection. Jesus' death defeated sin and death, as his resurrection also shows and guarantees. Suffering for the sake of Christ, wasting away, even death itself, are not the last word for God's people, but a glory that far outweighs them all.   
   Back to the pep-talk.   
   The fruit of the 'pep-talk' in my introduction, and others like it, will ultimately be one of pride – "Yes, I can do it, it's up to me, isn't God lucky I'm playing on His team" or despair – "I can never be good enough to serve God, I may as well not even try." Both responses are equally fruitless. However, there is another way, a way shaped by the very message that we preach; the way of the cross of Christ; of suffering service of others and a preparedness to go to the cross, before we take the crown. It is the way of God's glory and of our true and lasting joy. It is the way whereby we can be confident, that, rather than our weak and imperfect offerings jeopardising God's gospel plan, these are the very means God uses to bring about New Creation in our lives and in his world:   
   We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us (4:7)   

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