I loved last year’s theme for our student ministry. More than that, I lived on it. 2 Corinthians 4 reshaped my view of life and death in clay-pot ministry. The final paragraph of the chapter (verses 16-18) kept me, along with John Bunyan, from losing heart on the pilgrim’s path to the Celestial City.
Living on unseen things is vital. It’s also imperative to live out unseen things as well.1
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is far from over at the end of chapter 4. He had more to say in chapter 5; we have more to do. Like Paul, we long to be in the visible, bodily presence of the Lord (v.8), to be done with the burdens and groans of body life (vv.1-4). Yet this is no throwaway life. Our bodies won’t last, but we will give an account for what we’ve done on our earthly pilgrimage. Each one of us will answer for what we’re doing now (v.10), and those who worship the Lord (v.11) and desire to please Him (v.9) also ought to be busy persuading others to worship Him (v.11).
We must put ourselves ON THE LINE, imploring others to be reconciled to God through Christ. That thrust comes from the last paragraph in 2 Corinthians 5.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16–21)
Christ’s mission was to seek and save the lost. Our assignment is to be His ambassadors, to urge others to be reconciled to God. That ministry will require us to put certain things on the line.
To put something “on the line” means to put at serious risk, to expose to loss or damage. It is often used in the context of political and social agendas and has application in the life of every believer as well. It is willingness to lose something for sake of winning something better.
In the ministry of reconciliation, we may put on the line:
- our reputation/name. In serving and proclaiming Christ, others might misunderstand or criticize or persecute us.
- our energy, health, and sometimes even safety. For His sake, we may be worn out (tired) or beaten up (hurt).
- our possessions, or our position to get possessions. In His name, we may have opportunity to give away or give up things for a brother or sister who is lacking.
Those are only some of the more obvious costs of Christian service. And this year we’re going to learn about, and hopefully examine how we can be, putting ourselves on the line.
At the 11SR we’ll learn about a man who spent his life doing just that.
On the Line:
Rest and Risk in Hudson Taylor’s (Reconciling) Mission
Hudson Taylor was a British missionary who spent 51 years in China. He founded the China Inland Mission which was responsible for bringing over 800 missionaries into the country. Taylor put his life–home comforts, physical safety, daily provision, family relationships–on the line. He moved into a war zone. He also moved before securing dependable, regular support, without a plan to raise money while on the field, and without any of the modern communication conveniences. The growth of his soul led to the growth of the work of God.2 As he understood his own reconciliation to God through Christ he urged others on behalf of Christ.
I started thinking about Taylor as a biographical candidate about two weeks before the last snow retreat. Honestly, a large part of me does not want to teach on a missionary because of how it may stretch me. Additionally, after only a little bit of study, I realize there are elements of Taylor’s life and teaching that probably will require correction not merely qualification.3 That said, I believe there is much in his life that will test our willingness to put ourselves on the line as disciples.
We’re going to pick up where we left off in the Genesis story on Sunday mornings in one28. We should be able to cover some chapter-sized chunks beginning with chapter 13. Though we’ve already been in this book for the greater part of two years, I hope to turn a lot of pages in the life of the patriarchs this coming year.
Abram, in particular, put his faith on the line again and again. Probably the most well-known test comes in chapter 22 when he put not only his faith on the line, but even the life of his son. There is much to learn about risky obedience–what it does and doesn’t look like–in Genesis.
Much of the motivation for our ministry of imploring others to be reconciled to God comes from knowing and exulting in our own reconciliation. We’re unlikely to proclaim the gospel if we don’t believe it, and we’re unlikely to make sacrifices for the sake of the gospel if we aren’t thrilled by it. A similar back and forth between soteriology and missiology (evangelistic work among all nations) is unmistakeable in 2 Corinthians 5.
Soteriology is the study of salvation. More than academic, soteriology is worship material. We’ve studied the gospel of salvation in Romans, we’ve studied five particular points of salvation a couple times, and this year we’re going to follow a line.
(Get your Latin on for the) Ordo salutis: the order of salvation, the logical sequence, or the series of (chronological and/or conceptual) steps from eternity past to eternity future and everything in between. Different staff men will lead us through a study of sovereign Soteriology.
Our GBC Saturday seminar this year was:
Completing the Trinitarian Commission
Fulfilling the Great Commission calls us to put ourselves on the line, starting with calling others to repent and believe and then helping the “new creations” to grow in Christlikeness. This study was aimed to equip the reconciled for the work of ministry, not only for this year in one28, but for a lifetime of Body building.
Another emphasis this year will be outreach. The first place for emphasis, in addition to our prayers for the persecuted church, will be an added square for unreached people groups in the one28 bulletin.
We’re also going to mix in opportunities to put our pride, our comforts or at least some of our time, and maybe even some of our finances on the line. I’m not sure what exact forms this outreach will take but, at a minimum, we’ll try to schedule at least three more Out of the Box events.
The first place we hope to see students living out unseen things is at home. We every student to be a radically obedient son or daughters.
After that, we want to see radically involved brothers and sisters in our church family. We want every one of you to put your own conveniences, your schedule, your preferences on the line so that, in Christ, each part may work properly and make the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. It seems that some of you still think you’re unwanted or unimportant or unneeded in your small groups. That’s nonsense. Get on the line; get involved.
After hearing the theme at our staff retreat, Ryan Hall said: “Living on unseen things feels like a kiddie pool compared to this theme.” Perhaps last year’s theme answered reactively, What is God teaching us to live without? This year, then, is more proactive, What can we give up for sake of the ministry of reconciliation He’s given to us? It’s a question that I’m challenged to answer.
- “Living out unseen things” was actually Grant Weinberg’s guess at this year’s theme before I revealed it at our staff retreat in August. ↩
- Hence the two-volume biography written by Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law, The Growth of a Soul and The Growth of a Work of God. ↩
- Biographies of snow retreats past have included men such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. While we stand on their theological shoulders, we don’t subscribe to their every jot and tittle. They are helpful to the degree that their writings explain or illustrate Scripture. The same will be true with Taylor. ↩