Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bad Apple (Part 1)

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.  But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;” – 2 Corinthians 6:3-5

Some conversations stick in your head until a time when God decides to use them.  One such I recall was in regards to James Merritt, one of my favorite preachers on television.  I said something to a friend once about his message, and the reply was “I don’t like television preachers.  They’re so fake.”  Really?  That’s about as fair as saying I don’t like men named John because they all have blonde hair!
In any group of people, we all run the risk of being stereotyped, falling into a set of characteristics given to that group of people.  As a software developer, I’m often thought to be a ‘computer geek’ or ‘nerd’, and in love with science.  Doctors are often thought to be rushed, ‘quacks ‘, or living in wealth.  Lawyers are seen as truth-benders, and ‘shady’.  Car dealers are associated with hiding the truth, and dishonesty.  Teens are categorized as lazy, wild, and rebellious. 

These stereotypes didn’t happen overnight.  They have grown from past experiences people have had with each profession.  It only takes one bad apple to ruin a whole cart!  And when I go to the supermarket, if I’m looking at the apples and they are all bruised and nasty looking, I don’t buy ANY of them.  I dismiss the whole group.  Likewise, many people see Christians in the same manner, having known one bad apple and deciding they don’t want any part of Christianity because of their past experience with that one rotten example.
Paul talks to Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 about this, and tells them to “not receive the grace of God in vain.”  We have been gifted by God the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet how we live our lives and how we minister can shut doors of ministry that should be open.

In verse 3 he says We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.” In today’s language, Paul is saying watch yourself.  Don’t create a situation where you will be offensive to anyone else, which immediately closes the door of ministry.  He gives an example of this in 1 Corinthians 8:13 when he talks about friends that don’t eat meat, saying “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble”.  We don’t go into a Jewish household to minister eating a bar-b-q pork sandwich!  And we don’t go to talk to teens whom have never been to church wearing a suit and tie and quoting the old English of the King James Version, crying out “Repent!”.  That door doesn’t just shut – it is slammed shut.
Paul goes on to talk about our character as Christians, and how we must live in a way that portrays Christ.  We are given His name, as ‘Christ’ians.  Just as children carry the name of their parents, and their lives cast shadows on their parents character, so our lives do to Christ for those that do not know Him.

Paul tells us to “commend ourselves as ministers of God”, meaning to have piety, a devoted life to God.  He then gives us a grocery list of when we must show our loyalty to God. 
“In much patience” - When your patience is tested, you cannot explode.  Ministry does require self-control.

“In tribulations” – When times are tough, you have to stand strong.  I once heard a preacher say that if you want to know what a lemon is made of, you squeeze it.  Sometimes we’re squeezed, and what we produce should not be sour attitudes, and weak behavior.
“In needs” – Paul often needed food, shelter, and other necessities as he ministered.  But these needs should not overtake our responsibility to minister for God.  You can only serve one master.

“In distresses” – When you’re hard pressed, in anguish, and under stress, you must reach with patience. 
“In stripes” – Paul was beaten many times for preaching Jesus Christ to the Jews.  Even when being punished for your beliefs, you don’t get a “get out of being a Christian free” card. Endurance wins the race.

“In imprisonments” – You don’t have to sit in a prison cell to be imprisoned because of your belief in Jesus Christ.  Many workplaces and schools refuse to allow us to pray in public, speak of Jesus Christ, or read our Bibles.  While your worship may not be allowed, your character can preach stronger than with greater effect than your words. People can resist preaching, but they cannot refute the sweet Spirit living inside you.
“In tumults” – We all go through times when we’re tossed around, good times followed by bad times followed again with good.  Steadiness of character is what we strive for in times when our faith can be tested.

“In labors” – Ephesians 6:5-7 tells us to perform our jobs as if we worked them for Christ, “not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men”.  Slacking on the job closes ministry doors.  If your employer is paying you to do a job and you don’t do it to the level of quality you can and are expected to do it - you’re stealing from your employer.  Those watching you draw a pay check doing your job half-heartedly or with a bad attitude won’t see Christ in you.  Christ was not lazy. 

“In sleeplessness” – Being tired doesn’t give you an excuse to stop ministering.  If you get a call at 1:00 a.m. from someone needing prayer…pray.  Don’t condemn them for calling at that hour.  Your rest is not always going to be in the plan. 
“In fastings” – Yes, fasting.  Sometimes it is required, and God will instruct you to do it.  Fasting is doing without food, pure and simple.  When your flesh is denied, your spirit grows.  Jesus fasted for 40 days before His ministry began.  In Matthew 17:14-21 when He was faced with a demon possessed boy, he was able to cast out the demon that his disciples could not, and when asked why he explained this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”. There are times when fasting is required for ministry.

After reading Paul’s grocery lists of how we must maintain our character and live in order to minister to others, we might quickly say “No thanks! I’m not going to be a minister.”  But Paul isn’t talking about the profession of preaching.  He’s speaking to the entire church at Corinth, a body of believers just as we are.  We were all given the command to go into the world and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  We must be keenly aware of how we perform that duty, and assure that we don’t become the rotten apple in the cart in anyone’s eyes.  While it is a hard task to follow…as we will discuss further…we are equipped.   Thank God that He does not leave us to our own resources!

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