Rolling Stones: Why The Torn Veil & Split Rocks Matter

It’s the most pivotal moment in history…

…Jesus…on the cross…

…a joy once set before him, now the weight of the world.

Battered and bruised, he waits; the darkness of sin in foreign space. The epitome of innocence now weeping for his father…

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

One can only imagine what it must have been like to be a bystander watching this wonder working power helpless on a tree…to stand amidst this moment in time as it became a moment for eternity.

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Would you agree?

If not, permit me to explain through the lens of some rocks, a veil and why it tore immediately after Jesus’ last breath.

During Jesus’ ministry, the holy temple in Jerusalem was the hub of Jewish religious life, a place where animal sacrifices and scroll readings were carried out according to the Law of Moses. In this temple, a veil separated the Holy of Holies from the outer court for three reasons:

  1. The Holy of Holies was a landing spot for God’s presence
  2. The Holy of Holies was a place of consecrated communion between God and the high priest.
  3. The Holy of Holies signified man’s separation from God by sin foreshadowing sanctification through atonement.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (ESV) and Hebrews 9:6-9 (AMP) capture this in tandem:

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

“…the priests continually enter the outer [or first section of the] tabernacle [that is, the Holy Place] performing [their ritual acts of] the divine worship, but into the second [inner tabernacle, the Holy of Holies], only the high priest enters [and then only] once a year, and never without [bringing a sacrifice of] blood, which he offers [as a substitutionary atonement] for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. By this the Holy Spirit signifies that the way into the Holy Place [the true Holy of Holies and the presence of God] has not yet been disclosed as long as the first or outer tabernacle is still standing [that is, as long as the Levitical system of worship remains a recognized institution], for this [first or outer tabernacle] is a symbol [that is, an archetype or paradigm] for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which are incapable of perfecting the conscience and renewing the [inner self of the] worshiper.”

To recap, that’s over a millennium of one high priest making one annual visit to encounter God under first covenant law. That’s intense. I can only imagine if memes existed back then, how many would hinge on ‘no pressure’ taglines.  Not to mention if John 3:16 was extrapolated back to Exodus:

Before God could send His one and only Son, He had one and only day to meet one and only mediator1, a high priest oblivious to how the blood of his lambs bode the blood of the Lamb.”

Of course, I’m being jocose in my paraphrasing. But perhaps you’re still wondering, ‘What does any of this have to do with Jesus dying on the cross?

To answer this, let’s compare Matthew 27:50-51, Mark 15:37-39, Luke 23:44-47 respectively:

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’”

Now, before we pursue our bottom line, let’s note some contrasts:

  1. In Matthew, we see the veil tearing and rocks splitting; no mention of the centurion.
  2. In Mark, we don’t have rocks splitting, but the centurion is introduced confessing Christ as the Son of God.
  3. In Luke, we have time stamps and are re-introduced to the centurion who this time confesses Christ as innocent. Unlike Matthew and Mark, the veil is said to have been torn prior to Jesus’ death.
  4. Interestingly, the common denominator in all accounts is the torn veil. While not mathematically confirmed by Scripture, Exodus suggests this veil was likely near 60 feet high and four inches thick meaning not even Samson could not tear this thing.

Merging the differences, the moment fleshes out…

 “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ Having breathed his last, the earth shook, the rocks were split, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was the Son of God!’”

From here, we can now grasp the magnitude of the moment.

Once Jesus surrenders his spirit, it’s at this point the veil tears; however, the orientation of the tear is significant as it didn’t occur randomly, but from top to bottom. The commentary on this can be simplified as follows:

  1. The significance of the torn veil was the consummation of Christ’s sacrifice and atonement.
  2. The significance of the torn veil splitting top to bottom was the Holy Holies now being open to all people for all times.

Put another way, the veil tearing top to bottom not only captured the movement of God’s holy temple from manmade structure to internal dwelling, but also foreshadowed the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  No longer was the Old Covenant relevant where high priests represented the masses; rather, Christ could now be both our High Priest and the way to get to Him.

Hebrews 8-10 breaks this down beautifully, specifically when 8:13, 9:8-9, and 10:19-20 (ESV) are linked together:

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” 2

To quote Michael Houdmann, “The things of the temple were shadows of things to come, and they all ultimately point us to Jesus Christ. He was the veil to the Holy of Holies, and through His death the faithful now have free access to God.

As for the rocks splitting, though often lost in context, this, too, is a meaningful anecdote. While the torn veil signified the tearing of Jesus’ flesh, reconciliation between God and man, and Christ’s post-salvation residence, the split rocks captured the effects these had on the physical world. A preview of the tomb, the split rocks were more than a consequence of the earthquake following Jesus’ final breath, but rather a permanent reminder for humanity that death is the ground of resurrection…that what happens in the spiritual can’t be excluded from the physical.

The rocks, in a way, also signaled the resurrection of our earthly bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-54) and a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:18-29). Granted, theologies vary enough to warrant a second post for a different day; the bottom line is the rocks were both imagery and analogy to God’s sovereignty in creation, His power in death, and His intent for new life.

I love how John Piper paints this in Desiring God:  “The earth was shaken and rocks split by a sovereign earth-controller and a powerful rock-ruler. Human deaths don’t shake the earth and split rocks. God does. Rocks don’t have a mind of their own. They do what God bids them do. And they shook and split.”

Come to think of it, what a visual the rocks are to Christ’s identity as our everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:3-5), our fortress in whom we take refuge (Psalm 144:1-2). True, the veil reminds us the barriers once between God and man are now a pathway to walk in boldness (Hebrews 4:14-16), but the rocks remind us that pathway is also one we can walk in confidence.3

And that, my friends, is why we celebrate Easter: To commemorate Christ as our greatest anchor amidst a shaking world and our greatest security amidst a collapsing one. When life is unstable, He is able. How sweet it is to know the power of the Cross will always be enough to crack the rocks of life…

…that at the mention of His name, mountains bow down and the seas roar…

…the work of His hand having taken the nails for you.

As we approach Easter, my prayer for you is that as you come into a fresh understanding not only of what Christ came to do, but what He longs to do in and through you in the days to come.

Until then, I wish you all a wonderful Easter full of peace and rest as you reflect on the ultimate sacrifice.

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Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Already the math gives me tingles
  2. Pretty remarkable how fluid those passages run when put together
  3. Courage is for today; boldness is courage matured; confidence is boldness matured. Shout-out to Benji Block for the breakdown. (Edited by Cameron Fry via Canva)
Cover photo creds: newagechristianity.org (Edited by Cameron Fry via Canva)

7 Ways to Be Alive in Christ at Work

Scratch notes/commentary from my latest run through Ephesians 2

1. v. 1-4 – We have every reason to be humble given we’re all blind/once blind as students of worldly systems (hence, ‘course’ in v. 2). As Paul suggests in Colossians 2, these systems operate out of fear and independence, not disobedience. Therefore, it’s worth noting many who are lost won’t immediately see the rebellion of what they’re doing. For those who are saved and now see, we need to focus on what the lost may be able to see first and fears are things all of us can relate to.

2. v. 5 – We’ve been made alive together with Christ so we could ultimately experience life in Christ. We should want to be like Christ not only to model our faith, but so those around us can get as close to a ‘with Christ‘ experience as possible. Our job isn’t to get people in Christ; rather, as we’ll see later in this passage, we’ve been saved by grace to be Christ to people. The joys of fellowship, intimacy, stewardship, compassion we experience in community…this is part of the ‘with Christ’ experience we’re to engage. Put another way, our part in making Christ’s nature known is to be alive with the Christ in each other. In this way, the spirit of authentic community and non-worldly systems can be mutually embraced.

3. v. 10 – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…that we should walk in them. It’s not by good works, but for good works. By grace, we have been redeemed not only from desires of the flesh, but also to reveal why good works exist to those who do them.

4. v. 13 – Those who are in nearness with Christ should bridge nearness for others. Not only does this reference the Cross, but it’s also another way of rethinking the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5).

5. v. 14-15 – Are we breaking down hostilities in our peace-making efforts? Are we allowing Christ to be our peace in the first place? If not, our desire to see unity in community will be hindered. Sometimes, to be a peacemaker we have to focus not only on the internal compromises (i.e. the excuses we make for not doing good), but also the things that keep us from being consistent…from being courageous…from walking in victory in uncharted territory. As Paul often notes in his letters, the law/ordinances not only represented an old way of doing things, but epitomized religion in a new age. Applied to our present, it’s worth asking, ‘Are we tolerating old ways in our life, even if they were once good, by resisting the new way…the new thing…the new work God wants to do?” Post Cross, Christ’s ministry of reconciliation manifests when community intersects sanctification (becoming more like Christ, walking in greater righteousness, holiness made contagious and experienced in koinonia, etc.). As such, both elements should be constantly maturing in our lives.

6. v. 19 – As saints, let the rights of our citizenship not only be self-evident, but contagious and attractive to others. By rights, I’m not suggesting we be entitled, but that we realize we’re no longer foreigners. We are all designed to be a part of God’s family. Accordingly, we should see all people as potential family members in faith.

7. v. 20-22 – It’s easy for those in Christ to accept their corporate identity as the collective body of Christ. But we are also the body in Christ and because of this we shouldn’t see ourselves as individual temples only, but as part of one sacred, sanctified structure coming together, continuing to grow as more come into fellowship…into the presence of God. Put another way, being built up in Christ, with Christ should not be individualized with eternity in mind. Yes, there’s an individual component, but its part in the grand scheme unfolding should not be ignored.

Bottom line: We are made alive in Christ to live life with Christ. His will at the core of our being, let what we believe translate into what we do so the way to God for others can be direct and perceived as good.

Cover photo creds: Cross Life Church

3 Ways to Deal with Discrimination at Work

Discrimination. It’s crazy how crippling it can be.

One second you’re without a care in the world, the next you’re face-to-face with fear confirmed – a vain anxiety now a realized struggle. Perhaps you’ve wondered how to deal with price and prejudices outside your control, at work, political arenas or even in church. If so, permit me to share some guidance on ways we can overcome, specifically when we’re on the clock.

For while discrimination can happen anytime, anywhere, it’s often in the melting pots of life we find our faith and character challenged to the point of maturation.

With this in mind, let’s dive in…

1. Accept the Little Kid Within

This may seem like an odd place to start, but here me out.  When we consider the context of Matthew 18 where Jesus is previewing the local church, note his response to the opening question in v. 1:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 3-4, ESV)

Essentially, Jesus is saying the key to living the Kingdom is Christ’s bottom line for community: become like children.  Our intent may be good, our efforts may be efficient, but if our attitude isn’t one of childlike awe and innocence, our walk with God will become misdirected. You see, the disciples at this point were thinking like the world. They didn’t see the ‘greatest’ as a humble kid free of value judgments, offense, manipulation, and selective disclosure. Rather, they saw the ‘greatest’ like anyone else – through the lens of power, success, money, and reputation. So you can imagine the confusion the disciples must have felt when Jesus responded in contrast:

Unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.“ (AMP)

Again, Jesus is not only foreshadowing a key community goal, but emphasizing the Kingdom definition of success as how we treat people. If we’re to impact a culture in which everyone is loved, we should be motivated to walk in honesty, to honor and serve one another as opposed to offend or condemn.

Unfortunately, in a fallen world, there are many who tolerate the contrary (i.e. unbelief, negativity, bitterness, shame, withdrawal, etc.) and it’s here we must calibrate our expectations. Whether one is a child in flesh, emotion, or in spirit, our call is to receive in love while leaning on God’s understanding. In this way, whatever hate lies within can be appropriated to the right place (i.e. the sin and principalities involved).

Bottom line: If we’re to justly deal with discrimination, we must accept the child within. Even if the other side is lost, feeling insignificant, or behaving like an enemy, by giving agape love (i.e. love that works it out) and forgiveness a chance, we preserve the peace-making, bridge-building strategies of God.

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2. Stay the Little Kid Within

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m caught in nostalgia, I can’t help but notice how fast it comes and goes. Like a child in awe, the wonder is deep, the impression is evident, but the moment is often fleeting. The question is: If we’re to become like children, how do we stay like children?

The answer in one word? Consistency.

As John points out in 1 John 21, what we lack as literal kids we learn through maturation and conforming to God’s will in purpose, thought, and action; however, in order to experience this, we must daily aim to discover God by habitually keeping focus on what allows us to yield to Him.

Consider the habitual/customary relationship in v. 3-5 and v. 9-11:

“And this is how we know [daily, by experience] that we have come to know Him [to be more deeply acquainted with Him]: if we habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know Him,” but does not habitually keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth [of the divine word] is not in him. But whoever habitually keeps His word and obeys His precepts [and treasures His message in its entirety], in him the love of God has truly been perfected [it is completed and has reached maturity]. By this we know [for certain] that we are in Him. The one who says he is in the Light and yet habitually hates (works against) his brother [in Christ] is in the darkness until now. The one who loves and unselfishly seeks the best for his [believing] brother lives in the Light, and in him there is no occasion for stumbling or offense [he does not hurt the cause of Christ or lead others to sin]. But the one who habitually hates (works against) his brother is in [spiritual] darkness and is walking in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (AMP)

While this passage may seem repetitious, I love what John is doing here.  A master of audience, John knew his readers were not only professing Christians, but believers who valued custom as worship and fellowship with Christ as habitually abiding2. Accordingly, John emphasizes a reality view centered on daily partnership through obedience knowing these ‘little children’ (v. 1) would see the call as something more than surrender, but life itself!

As for us, if we’re to understand consistency in the face of discrimination and in the context of abiding like children, we must embrace Christ as our daily interceding advocate. For it’s when we reference Christ as our champion that we center the Cross in our minds treasuring truth in community. After all, if we’re to be like Jesus, we must be in him, rooted in and knit to Him as the promise keeper He is:

As for you, the anointing [the special gift, the preparation] which you received from Him remains [permanently] in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But just as His anointing teaches you [giving you insight through the presence of the Holy Spirit] about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as His anointing has taught you, you must remain in Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him].” (v.27, AMP)

Bottom line: Regardless if we’re dealing with discrimination at work, our default response should know no offense. Yet, in order to lack offense, we must first choose consistent fellowship with Christ, trust His unfolding purposes in others, and allow His love to perfect as we habitually seek His highest. This is how we stay the little kid within.

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3. See the Little Kid Within

As a parlay from the points above, I’ll keep this short and sweet. If our aim is to trust God in childlike faith and ‘Abba Father’ reliance, we must also aim to see the same potential in others. Granted, easier said than done as the presence of God is the only power that can mature a child-like…anything.

But as a body pursuing the best of God, we must also believe the best of Him even if it hasn’t happened yet. And what better place to practice this than with our comrades at work?

In my experience, I’ve found one of the most basic yet transformational attitudes is imagining lost people found. To consider what they may be like, the changes in demeanor, behavior, communication, work ethic, character, etc. Seriously, wouldn’t it be wild if more believers entered into this type of rest? What palpable peace we’d sense substituting the disappointments of what we can’t change with a belief in who can. What anxiety we’d release imagining change in others as change going to happen, not could happen. Embracing this perspective, would we not see the little kid within, even if they were treating us poorly?

Perhaps not at first; however, given a child doesn’t discriminate or manipulate3, one must wonder if offense would pale in the light of safe honesty4. True, as adults, we may not think like children, but we can certainly be more open to grace when we take no offense like them.

Bottom line: As little children, believe in what you’ve been given for others. Dare to apply the ‘Hope may have it, but faith will have it’ mentality to how you view and treat your colleagues, subordinates, and superiors at work.

Remember…

1) Don’t just think positive thoughts in a vacuum, but extend them to those who persecute and condemn you.

2) Christ in you…

tenor

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Interestingly, I stumbled upon this passage by researching the word ‘consistency’ which led to this as the sole result.
  2. In His teachings
  3. Depends on age, but in this case we’re talking children young enough to not know how to cunningly exploit
  4. Though they do judge poorly
Photo creds: Pixabay

 

Built to Build: The Call of Vocations (Part 1)

After previously discussing 1 Corinthians 4, I want to rewind a chapter and review our vocational identity – what God intends us to be on the clock.

While we will ultimately need guidance from Colossians 2 to unpack this in full, for now let’s start with 1 Corinthians 3:9-11 (ESV):

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Here, Paul, having emphasized church divisions (v. 1-4), is reminding the Corinthians to see Christ as their cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22), as the foundation of life on which new life can be built. Unfortunately, like the Israelites in Judges, the Corinthians are strong in flesh and weak in discernment. A people ravaged by schismatic impulses, they are plagued by paganism and a past rooted in idolatry. Certainly, Paul couldn’t have been too surprised to hear reports of such dissension.

Athena

Yet, what Paul lacks in suspense, he makes up in candidacy, specifically we are servants designed for unity and God is the source and core of it all. What matters is not who gets this task and who gets that task, but rather why the task exists at all. For most of us, this makes sense, but to the Corinthians, a people who saw their value through who they followed, this would have been difficult to accept. Imagine your political preference and/or denomination of choice being your chief designation. “Hi, my name is Cameron and I’m a charismatic Republican.” A bit off-putting, right?­

Conversely, for Paul, affiliations meant nothing compared to eternal intent as evidenced in v. 9 (AMP):  

For we are God’s fellow workers [His servants working together]; you are God’s cultivated field [His garden, His vineyard], God’s building. “ 

Like 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, this is powerful imagery concerning our vocational identity. We aren’t just God’s workers, but fellow workers on mission with Christ doing good works in Gospel partnership (Phil. 1:5-6). Concerning our colleagues and clients, they’re also designed for God’s assignments, but whether they know it or not should not deter us from working peaceably as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). As long as we accept the call to be Christ’s championing companions, we can embrace unity as helpers of joy (2 Corinthians 1:24) while perceiving our cultivation as an overflow of God’s goodness.

After all…

…we don’t work to lay the foundation; we work because Christ is the foundation!

Put another way, as co-laborers and vocational leaders, we’re meant to be laid on, not laid upon; hence, why Jesus says in Mark 3:25, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.” If we don’t value teamwork apart from personal gain, our operations will be hindered having affirmed our identity as the foundation.

Again, this offers quite the paradox to the natural mind. Are we the foundation Christ, the master builder, lays or are we the slab plan built on Christ the foundation, by Christ the builder? Personally, I side with the latter, especially when I note the Psalmist and weeping prophet (i.e. Jeremiah) who perceived identity as predestined (Psalm 139:13, Jeremiah 1:5), Christ’s work in them1 as destined, and God’s nature as perpetually present. Applying their worldview, we can rest knowing as vocational influencers, we can mature our reach knowing it is Christ in us who does the cultivating through our work.

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In other words…

He is the vine, we are branches…but we are also a part of His vineyard!

Sometimes, we get so discouraged being branches, we forget the beauty of the garden we’ve been planted in. This tells me not only do we need to know Christ as the foundation on which we stand, but also the cultivator who pours out seeing the growth before it happens.

Colossians 1:4 and 2:2 (AMP) captures this process beautifully.

We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [how you lean on Him with absolute confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness], and of the [unselfish] love2 which you have for all the saints (God’s people)…For my hope is that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in [unselfish] love, so that they may have all the riches that come from the full assurance of understanding [the joy of salvation], resulting in a true [and more intimate] knowledge of the mystery of God, that is, Christ…”

Combining these passages, we find the blueprint to living our vocational identity. When we’re overcome by disappointment, we choose gratitude seeking God in confidence. When we’re overwhelmed by hate, prejudice, and indifference we choose love seeking God in faith. And when we’re overpowered by unbelief and unforgiveness, we choose hope seeking God in His grace and power. In this way, we allow the towel (John 13: 1-9) to unfold as our hearts yearn to see others transformed and united by unselfish love. Granted, when we talk being on the job in the midst of funk and discrimination, this is easier said than done.

Then again, the whole point of Paul writing this is to encourage the Gentiles to desire unity with the Jews in hope to see them know Christ. And it’s this heart posture, I submit, we embrace as believing vocations on marketplace frontlines. Remember we are built up to build up, a process that with God knows no bounds.

As far as what we do between being built up in Christ and building up through Christ, Paul does give an additional template on this later in Colossians 2. For now, let’s pause and revisit the topic in next week’s post on how we contend for unity at work.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Ministry of reconciliation/sanctification
  2. The key to understanding this and other statements about love is to know that this love (the Greek word agape) is not so much a matter of emotion as it is of doing things for the benefit of another person, that is, having an unselfish concern for another and a willingness to seek the best for another.
Photo creds: FULLER studio

Messiah’s Misfits: Why The Name Says It All

So recently I’m reading 1 Corinthians 4 when suddenly it hits me…

…of all the chapters in all of Paul’s letters, arguably the greatest content on vocational perseverance can be found in v. 9-13 when Paul discusses the nature of true apostleship.

 Let’s check it out…

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (ESV)

It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.” (MSG)

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles at the end of the line, like men sentenced to death [and paraded as prisoners in a procession], because we have become a spectacle to the world [a show in the world’s amphitheater], both to angels and to men. We are [regarded as] fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are highly esteemed, but we are dishonored. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty; we are continually poorly dressed, and we are roughly treated, and wander homeless. We work [for our living], working hard with our own hands. When we are reviled and verbally abused, we bless. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure. When we are slandered, we try to be conciliatory and answer softly. We have become like the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (AMP)

Now, before we dive in, we must understand the broader context.

First, what is the nature of true apostleship? Going back to 4:1, we find the answer: Those who minister Gospel hope as servants/stewards/ambassadors of Christ no matter the cost. The Amplified breaks it down further describing these servants as those who are certain in adoration more than they are uncertain in anything else. Essentially, apostleship goes beyond the office of apostle and involves anyone who is willing to be salt, light, and life in places where there is none. If you are being a faithful steward of God’s call on your life, you’re engaging your apostolic anointing! Whether or not you have a mobile ministry is moot compared to God’s faithfulness being reflected in what you say and do as you draw people to Christ (Colossians 3:17).

Second, how do we abide in the nature of true apostleship? Verses 7-8 give us a hint when paraphrased: We have not only been given everything for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but every reason to trust the Lord as our portion (Psalm 73:26)¹. Accordingly, as we reference God in reverence², to live as Christ (Philippians 1:21) becomes the foundation to our perseverance and influence regardless of setting and trial. After all, “there are different kinds of [work], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:6).

Finally, we arrive at v. 9 where Paul employs some serious poetic license. Messiah’s misfits (MSG), prisoners of spectacle (AMP, ESV), an accident in the street everyone stands around and stares at…these are all powerful metaphors and similes reminding us there is no earthly honor in apostleship. If, by chance, we are pursuing any glory apart from what is rightfully God’s, our endurance will not stand, but if our satisfaction is rooted in being complete with Christ (Colossians 2:10), if our contentment is secure to His sufficiency, only then will we be victorious as dregs. It’s a paradox to the flesh, but one necessary for our dependence. When we are thirsty, we’ll see the need as being filled as opposed to satisfying a lack. When we are persecuted, we’ll know God is with us as one who relates as opposed to withdrawn as one who can’t. And when we’re struggling to make ends meet, we’ll rest in the mysteries of what God has and hasn’t revealed since our reliance is not contingent on self.

For some of us, it’s hard to accept what doesn’t make sense. It’s like we’re okay being misfits to sin, but not to the minds/culture tolerating it. I know for me, I’d rather be criticized for what I do wrong than be judged for what I do right. At least, with the former I can apply the correction and move on! However, I also know whenever I crave my work to be affirmed and my love to be reciprocated, I can declare God’s grace as sufficient, the fact I can joyfully boast in His power made perfect in my frailty (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). And suddenly those ‘weak as I eke‘ moments fade in something infinitely more…

…the sweet reality that I need JESUS! What a beautiful place to be!

-Jprj2

Bottom line: If you’re a vocational leader, dare to see the identity of what you do through the lens of apostleship, through the lens of being a servant taking light into dark places. And if hard times come, don’t be surprised; rather view them as a sign you’re doing things right³. When you bless others in the face of voids and discouragement, remember the same Christ you ask to bless others is the same Christ who will honor your obedience. If you don’t fit in, remember you were never called to in the first place. Stand out, take what comes, and know the power of you standing through adversity will assuredly have a positive ripple-effect on those around you even if you don’t see it right away.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Note how strength in this verse has Hebrew roots to ‘rock’
  2. This form of dependence opens up the Romans 5:1-5 road (more on this in a future post)
  3. Assuming the hard times aren’t consequences of sin, shortcuts, etc.
Cover photo creds: Medium