In Romans 11:13 Paul describes himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles.” This isn’t the main point of the chapter, but it reveals that Paul possessed a clear understanding of his ministry and calling from God.
God didn’t call Paul to stand by the temple gates in Jerusalem and hand out Jesus tracts to those coming to worship. Although Paul healed people at times, God didn’t call Paul to establish a healing ministry at Jesus empty tomb. Paul’s mission didn’t exclude Jews, but he was called to ensure that his mission, and God’s kingdom, always included gentiles.
I suspect that many Christians lack a sense of calling and purpose in their Christian walk. Our Christian mission has a global, nondiscriminatory element to it. Jesus himself taught us “Go into all the world and make disciples” and “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Which makes the specificity of Paul’s calling all the more interesting.
Sometimes God continues to call people to serve and share the Gospel with particular foreign nations. I have friends in a variety of African, South American and Asian nations endeavouring to introduce people to Jesus. At first glance, this international mission work seems like the closest approximation of Paul’s calling.
I believe that God also calls each christian to narrow their beam of light. In that sense we’re more like a rotating lighthouse that shines it’s light in different directions at different times. We may have a stationary light at the top of the lighthouse that people can see from all directions, but the strong light focuses its beam in one location at a time.
The question really isn’t whether we have “gentiles” in our lives. Rather, the question comes down to whether or not we’re willing to accept our proximity to them as our God-given calling.
The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word for messenger. In this sense we can all describe ourselves as the “apostle / messenger to the ____________”. Who might God be calling you to shine His light upon?
- Children’s friends
- Teenage mothers
- People in recovery
- Special needs families
- A local elementary school
- College students
- White collar professionals
- First responders
When I was in university studying accounting, I had a commercial law professor, Dr. James Wong. He passed away several years ago, but he remains a great example to me of someone who let his light shine. Here are three examples I know of.
- Students: I first met Dr Wong outside the classroom when I chose to attend a “Staff & Students” Bible study I saw advertised. Dr Wong was the only staff member and there weren’t many students, but it became a source of encouragement for me. The group primarily consisted of students from Hong Kong and southeast Asia. Dr Wong and his wife, Sharon, served these students not just through a Bible study but in helping them adjust to life on a Tasmanian university campus. He was an apostle to these students.
- Professional colleagues: Dr Wong felt that churches often struggled to connect with white collar professionals. As a lawyer himself, he felt a strong desire to share the Gospel with this community. To accomplish this end he self-published a book of testimonies from various successful Christian lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers and others. It never became a best seller, but it was how he carried out his calling to be an apostle to the professional community.
- Northern Tasmania: Dr Wong and Sharon weren’t from Tasmania, but they lived there for many years. They gave themselves the goal of delivering gospel tracts to every home in Launceston. When they accomplished that they continued to expand their efforts. Over the years they had traveled as far as 100kms from home to fulfill their mission of sharing the Gospel with as many of their neighbours as possible. We might question the effectiveness of tracts in letterboxes, but not their commitment to letting God’s light shine through them to a specific region of “gentiles”.
Who are your “gentiles”? Who are you seeking?
Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12) really summarises the message of Mark’s Gospel. In the story the farm hands recognise Jesus as the son of the landowner. Their response is to kill him. How do we identify Jesus, and how do we respond?
Mark opens his writing with the statement “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From his opening the other three accounts of Jesus’ life took their title. They were not histories, or biographies, they were Good News written to persuade people to believe and trust the person of Jesus.
As Mark introduces Jesus to the world, he elects to use the title, “Son of God” to describe Him. We find this title not only in 1:1, but also at other key events in the book. Jesus is described as the Son of God at his baptism (1:11),at the transfiguration (9:7), and at the cross the centurion after observing his death observes, “surely this man was the Son of God.” (15:39)
The Gospel of Mark pivots on 8:29. Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and the apostle Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” Finally, someone accepted Jesus’ message about who he is in relationship with God. In a sense, it’s mission accomplished, but Jesus immediately changes the mission. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8:31)
Having established his claim to the title of Israel’s promised Messiah, Jesus immediately emphasises humility, service, and death. It’s fascinating to see the apostles response move in the exact opposite direction. Three times Jesus predicts his death and the apostles respond by arguing about who is the greatest among them.
|Mark 8:31-34||“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things…”||Peter arrogantly rebukes Jesus and tells him that he’s wrong.|
|Mark 9:31-35||“The Son of Man… will be killed.”||“…on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”|
|Mark 10:32-41||“The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests… they will condemn him to death…”||James and John ask to sit at the left and right hands of Jesus’ throne in glory. This upset the rest of the disciples.|
The apostles slowly learned that it’s one thing to intellectually recognise the Lordship of Jesus, but another challenge altogether to submit to Him. Finally, in 10:45 Jesus laid it out for them in very plain language, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark is very concerned that people acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, as Messiah, as Lord. The first step is to learn and believe this truth. The second step is to allow that truth to transform our lives. Knowing the truth of the majesty of Jesus makes us servants, not superiors.
So I don’t want this article to just be an interesting intellectual blog post. Let me close by posing three questions:
- Who is Jesus to you? (Go ahead, write it down. It’s harder than just thinking it.)
- Who in your life could you serve in a meaningful way in the next two days?
- Will you?
On an academic note, here’s a brief note of caution by NT Wright on how to understand the title “Son of God”. It’s part of a much longer essay available here.
‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, does not mean ‘the/a divine one’. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthands for the divine name or being of Jesus. It is comparatively easy to argue that Jesus (like several other first-century Jews) believed he was the Messiah (see JVG, ch. 11). It is much harder, and a very different thing, to argue that he thought he was in some sense identified with Israel’s God. In this context, the phrase ‘son of God’ is systematically misleading because in pre- and non-Christian Judaism its primary referent is either Israel or the Messiah, and it retains these meanings in early  Christianity (e.g. Rom. 1:3-4) while also picking up the overtones of Paul’s early, high Christology. It seems to me, in fact, that the title was perceived very early on in Christianity—within the first decade or so at least—as an ideal one for Jesus because it enabled one to say both ‘Messiah’ and ‘the incarnate one’. However, its subsequent use simply for the latter meaning, coupled with its too-ready identification with the virginal conception story, make it in my view difficult to use without constant qualification in contemporary in systematic discussions.
There’s another short and helpful summary of Wright’s understanding of the title “Son of God” here.
As I’ve been reading for my current sermon series on spiritual gifts a pattern emerged that I didn’t initially see. In each context, two additional themes accompany the discussion of spiritual gifts: The image of the church as a body; and Love. (Well, actually, 1 Peter 4 doesn’t use the metaphor ‘body” but it does say “use whatever gift you have received to serve others“. It’s understanding of spiritual gifts is very “other-centric” rather than “self-centred”.)
|Rom 11-12||Doxology||True worship (Transformation)||Church as Body||Spiritual Gifts||Love in Action|
|1 Cor 11-13||Spiritual Gifts||Church as Body||Love||Spiritual Gifts/Worship|
|Eph 3-4||Doxology||Godly traits & oneness (love)||Spiritual Gifts/roles||Church as Body/Love||Transformation|
|1 Pet 3-4||Transformation||Love||Spiritual Gifts||Doxology||Christian suffering|
I don’t want to over analyse this grouping, although I do find it significant. Paul and Peter both see gifts as resources given to Christians for the benefit of the church as a whole, or people in general. Gifts are not for the glory of the individual who possesses them. Peter even concludes his little section on the topic with the doxology, “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
God gives gifts to empower service. How’s that for sucking the air out of the balloon?
Second, Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12 both follow their extended discussion of gifts with an extended discussion of love. Love provides the motivation for using out gifts in service. Using our gifts without love will makes them hollow service. Gifts are worthless if love doesn’t motivate our lives. The Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts as a means for us to demonstrate and share God’s love with others. They are a tool, not the goal. The goal in each of these passages is unity. The body of Christ only reaches its fullest potential when it is unified and working as designed.
We have a responsibility not just to wield the tool lovingly, but to wield it competently. This requires knowing our gifts, and exercising our gifts. Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim 4:14 “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” I believe many people today neglect their gifts. We often serve for all sorts of motives apart from recognising “this is the ministry God has gifted me for”. We spend far too long trying to strengthen our struggles or serve in areas of weakness rather than using our gifts in God’s service. We need to consider Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 5:18) not to put out the Spirit’s fire.
In closing, I highly recommend the website YourSpiritualGifts.com. Many helpful spiritual gift inventories exist online and on Amazon. I gave my computer illiterate church members a paper inventory, but the results just gave them one word answers. What I really appreciate about this website is that James Nored provides a full page description for each gift including examples of Bible characters exercising the gift and examples from the lives of people he’s met. The feedback bridges the distance between seeing a word on a printout and glimpsing how I can make that gift part of my lifestyle, not just a Sunday special.
Although chapter 19-22 contain a lot of teaching, chapter 19 begins with the key phrase “When Jesus had finished saying these things…” which indicates that the following passage is narrative, not discourse. Chapters 19-22 describe events during Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
The narrative found in chapters 19-22 builds on the previous discourse about humility by emphasizing the Godly value of serving others. These chapters are framed by descriptions and statements confirming Jesus as God’s Messiah. In 16:16 Peter has declared Jesus to be the Messiah, while in 21:1-17 Jesus is welcomed to Jerusalem as Messiah, and demonstrates his authority by clearing merchants out of the temple courts. The big picture message is that despite his majesty and authority Jesus’ life work is serving others.
In 20:25-28 Jesus lays out the fundamental principle by contrasting the motivations of citizens in the kingdom of heaven, and those outside it. Again Jesus has to address his disciples request for greatness (a link between the discourse and the narrative), and he does so by definitively stating that his disciples don’t become great by gaining authority, but through serving.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It’s very easy for churches and individual Christians to resort to authority, rather than service. We serve the Creator of the universe, so we often expect people to listen to us because we proclaim His message. We want to change the behavior of people around us because they’re not living the way the Supreme God wants them to.
History is littered with examples of churches of all stripes who sought to change the world for God using whatever authority they could gather. Instead, Jesus calls us to serve. He calls us to put others’ needs ahead of our own.
But God doesn’t just want us scheduling our “acts of service”. He wants us to live lives characterized by service and in the process, to increase our humility.
We can see that the apostle Peter took this lesson to heart. 30 years later, he wrote in 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” I’m sure Paul also had this idea in mind when he wrote in Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
I believe that selfishness and pride are at the core of most/all sins. Humility and service don’t come naturally. But they’re the basis of life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- It seems easy to think of atrocities committed over the span of history in the name of Christ. What examples from history can you think of that demonstrate the church’s call and willingness to serve?
- What opportunity to serve have you participated in that is most memorable or fulfilling to you?
Coincidentally, the sermon topic scheduled for this week complements the topic we’ve been discussing on Wednesday night. Any basic introduction or overview of the Gospel of Luke will mention two themes that Luke gives special attention compared to the writers of the other Gospels: the poor, and women.
Luke doesn’t do this by including lengthy diatribes on the status of women in Jesus eyes, but by simply including them in his accounts. Like the other Gospels, Luke still focuses on the ministry of Jesus and the Twelve, but he’s more deliberate in mentioning the presence and work of women.
My sermon focused on Joanna. She’s an easy person to miss since we’re not told very much about her, but since her husband managed Herod’s household (v3), she must have had a significant degree of social standing. She was apparently willing to risk her social reputation in and around Herod’s court by leaving that behind and following Jesus as he traveled from village to village. Jesus had rescued her from illness or demon possession and in return she committed her life to His ministry.
The Herod mentioned in this verse is probably Herod Antipas (since the events take place in Galilee). This is the same Herod who imprisoned and executed John the Baptiser. He also interviewed and mocked Jesus prior to his crucifixion (Lk 23:5-12). The father of Antipas, Herod the Great, had earlier killed all the infant males in Bethlehem in an effort eradicate the threat he believed Jesus posed to his position as king.
Joanna would have known Herod’s fear/hatred of Jesus and the fate of John the Baptiser, yet she took the risk and accompanied Jesus on his travels. Her acceptance of Jesus’ call is no less dramatic than that of any of the apostles (Lk 51-11; 27-31). She not only left the social circle of the royal court to follow Jesus, but also supported his ministry financially. And despite these sacrifices, she receives only the briefest of mentions, while the men are treated as heroes.
One of the lessons we can learn from Joanna, is her commitment to following Jesus, despite her lack of public recognition. Luke also mentions her presence at the tomb of Jesus as one of the women who discovered his resurrection. Despite any obstacles she encountered during the intervening period she remained faithful to her Saviour. She demonstrates endurance and persistence.
We all face the temptation of becoming demoralised when we persistently work at something and receive no recognition for our efforts. We can easily find ourselves considering the gifts God gives us and seeking a bigger stage on which to exercise them. Paul’s words in Galatians 1:10 provide an important reminder for us, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
When we find ourselves limited, because of our gender, or location, or some other reason, we face the choice of whether to focus on the limitation, or the opportunities available to us within that limitation.
It was recently pointed out to me that the first step in the serpent’s temptation of Eve was to remove her attention from the innumerable blessings God had given her to instead focus upon the single restriction. I believe this continues to be a strategy of Satan that women have to resolve as they serve God within the church.
But Satan uses this strategy on all of us. I could sit around lamenting that I’m not working for a larger church, or in a bigger city, or closer to Christian college that would give me more opportunities to share my “incredible wisdom” and “awesome speaking skills” God’s given me. Or I can work in my current situation to share God’s love and Good News with everyone with whom I come in contact.
Joanna reminds us that we can work just as effectively for God away from the limelight as we can in the limelight. While many people want to deepen their pockets by raising their profile in the Lord’s work, Joanna supported the ministry of Jesus out of her own pocket. The crucial point in this whole story is that Jesus called her… and she followed, and served. Although I believe the NT does place some restrictions on the roles of women in the church (see here) it’s crucial that we recognise that Jesus called women as well as men. Jesus relied on the support of women, as well as men. The church needs to equally equip, commission, and acknowledge the work of women in God’s service.
Joanna may not have a book of the Bible named after her, but she was rewarded on that Sunday morning as the angel, in person, declared to her and the other women the Good News of a risen Saviour.
- While some people struggle with the urge to lead the church, others struggle to develop the willingness to serve. To what extent do you think this is a gender issue?
- Do you think I’m making too big a deal over the couple of things we’re told about Joanna, or is this a reasonable application?
- Have you experienced Satan directing your attention from opportunities to limitations? What are some other limitations he uses in addition to gender & location?