Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Between Three Worlds - Vision Pt. 3
Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions— if he comes to you, welcome him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, "See that you fulfill the ministry that you have re ceived in the Lord." I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
What were some of the keys to the planting, rooting and expansion of God’s church in the first century? And how can those keys propel us into a genuine multi-ethnic gospel witness in the 21st century? God’s sovereign power of course. True, but how did God exercise that power? Answering that may help provide some of the keys to the spread of the gospel. So what were some of those keys? They include the power of the gospel message, the geopolitical context of the Roman empire, the overall spiritual climate of the Roman empire at that time, the explosive power of the Holy Spirit and if we’ve read the book of Acts the courage and perseverance of the apostles.
One other key that I don’t hear mentioned a great deal however is the quality and dedication of the ordinary disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. The section of scripture printed above comes from the end of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. (a church by the way that he did not plant) In it he mentions ten people who were instrumental in the planting, growth and expansion of the church in the first century. And it was disciples like these who played a significant role in propelling the gospel throughout the Roman world. And I don’t think that the strength of their witness was based on their ability to do the miraculous, artistic talent, cutting edge cultural relevance or powerfully gifted speaking skills.
What then was the key to their witness? To boil it down the early disciples were willing to wrap their lives around the message of the gospel and work hard for its promotion and expansion in their world. And to do that they had to step out of their birth culture and give themselves fully to the culture of the kingdom. What do I mean by that? Take another look at that passage from Colossians. Note how Paul distinguishes between Jewish and Greek believers. He speaks of those men who are among the circumcision (that is his Jewish brothers) and then writes ‘Epaphras, who is one of you’ indicating that he was Greek. What did they have in common?
Whether Jew or Greek their commitment to Christ automatically distanced themselves from their natural culture. Thus, for Justus to answer the call of the gospel meant that he had to reject the Jewish sacrificial system and the cultural core symbol of the Jews which was the temple at Jerusalem. It also meant that he no longer yearned for a military messiah who would overthrow the Romans and establish a political kingdom in Israel. Now once he did this Justus wasn’t simply regarded by his people as some quirky religious cat but their sworn enemy.
Likewise for Epaphras to embrace the gospel of Christ meant to reject Greek philosophy, the Greek pantheon and in many was the Greco/Roman way of life which was centered in idolatry. It meant that he rejected the cultural core symbols of his people which were the statues of their gods. He too became an enemy of his people since they tied so much of their identity to their idolatry and believed that the strength of the Roman state was tied to fidelity to the gods.
How can their examples instruct us who are now some twenty centuries removed from them as we attempt to establish a biblical based, Christ-centered, kingdom focused, multi-ethnic gospel witness?
To Him Who Loves Us...