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

Bearing Forbearance: A SOAP Study on Philippians 4:4-5

Scripture: Phil. 4:4-5

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” (ESV)

d – or gentleness (NIV) or graciousness (HCSB) or considerate (NLT)

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!” (MSG)

Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near. ” (AMP)

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your [b]forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” (ASV)

Other mentions of forbearance…

✓ O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” ~ Jeremiah 15:15

✓ Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” ~ Romans 2:4

✓ Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” ~ Romans 3:25

✓ Where your fathers tried Me by testing [My forbearance and tolerance], And saw My works for forty years [And found I stood their test].” ~ Hebrews 3:9

✓ Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.” ~ Colossians 3:12–13 1

Observations:

1. Forbearance, a word generally found in the King James Version, has two meanings: One is to delay repayment of a debt and the second is an attribute of God’s nature, specifically holding back rightful judgment in favor of patience, mercy, and kindness.

2. Forbearance’s short-term benefit is repentance and its long-term benefit is freedom.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, KJV).

In this instance, Paul is warning us not to confuse a delay in discipline/judgment as disinterest or a lack of grace. Instead, Paul is emphasizing the fact we should forbear to judge others given God is constantly forbearing in judging the world.

3. Forbearance is a versatile quality God highly esteems. In fact, several of its facets connect to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. Whether manifest as patience, endurance or gentleness, forbearance is woven throughout the Bible (Proverbs 25:15Ephesians 4:2).

Applications:

1. We live in a world where much comes down to bandwidth and margin. Whether in business, law, or real estate, we tend to think of forbearance has a negative term as it implies the inevitability of a negative outcome…a turning over the keys, if you will. And I think for many of us this results in seeing forbearance as a surrender of control when it reality it’s a surrender of immediate judgment.

Conviction: We talk about making room for Jesus (“prepare Him room” – a popular phrase in worship circles), but often we don’t emphasize making room for forgiveness. Forbearance, while a present action, invests in the future and says when someone wrongs me…when someone offends me…I’m going to be ready. Not for retaliation, not for revenge or manipulation, but for patient grace, for meekness as the model of humility. Hence, why forbearance is an extension of 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Forbearance has been said to be a honorary fruit of the Spirit; however, the more I think about it, forbearance is perhaps better described as a fruit basket of the Spirit.

2. A repeated command in Scripture is “wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14Proverbs 20:221 Corinthians 4:5Isaiah 40:31). Thus, it could be said…

God requires us to wait upon Him in order to help us develop forbearance.

For when we wait upon the Lord, we ultimately increase our capacity to forbear with those around us (1 Peter 3:8).

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Furthermore, sometimes the best place/time to wait on the Lord is when we’re working. As a finance employee, being single-focused on a particular task can come in handy, not only for the job at hand, but in my aim to hear God. Sure, there may be days I feel I’m sinking in the mud of mundanity; however, if I choose to see my effort as an opportunity to listen to my Creator, not only will I develop a more sensitive ear, but a more forbearing heart in the sense I’m cultivating yieldedness as opposed to self-sufficient tolerance.

3. If we’re meant to bear fruit, each others burdens, and with each other in love with all humility and patience forsaking self-righteousness, then forbearance helps get us there. It’s embracing the fact we can reflect the very nature of God without using it our advantage (Phil 2:6-8) as we make every effort to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). It’s a remarkable tool in our spiritual arsenal as it flips the legal IOU mentality for a selfless IOU reality that says. ‘I owe you nothing more than what God shows me every day.’

4. Unfortunately, for many of us, it’s easy to ‘conditional-ize’ forbearance among those we’re comfortable with. We compartmentalize and ration it as we please…as we see fit. I’m sure many of us have seen this demonstrated in secular settings…in the workplace…in the field and beyond. And part of this ties to the obvious…not all are saved, following the Lord, or aiming to be like him so we can’t expect to be on the receiving end of what, rather who, we’re trying to emulate.

At the same time, we can’t give up in being the change we crave, specifically respect to forbearance, being an agent of unbiased unity. When we zoom at Philippians 4 as a whole, note how Paul structures the chapter. Before he talks about how to think and act purely, how he’s learned to be content in all things…how he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him, he first talks about being united. He’s taking vacuum out of the equation.

Forbearance isn’t an exclusive right or privilege, it’s part of a corporate calling that goes beyond the bandwidths and margins we so often quantify. If we truly want to lead a full life, we must be open to full kindness as it’s part of how God leads us to repentance. And shouldn’t we ultimately want this for everyone?

Bottom line: The bridge between being ‘slow to anger’ and ‘abounding in love’ (Psalm 86:15) is forbearance.

Prayer: (see 20:51-22:19)

Footnotes

  1. The New Living Translation words it this way: Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.
Photo creds: Wallpaper Studio 10