The Ministry: “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom…”
What possible value can come from simply “being there”?
I’ve begun a habit of sitting in the Ipswich Mall every Tuesday. Several people join me regularly, a wide array of people I know come past during the day, and sometimes I also make new friends. I believe this is what God has for me at the moment. Sometimes I wonder about the value of it.
Of course, when viewed with worldly eyes, little value is apparent. But viewed with the Biblically important, “eyes to see”, the value of this ministry is incredible! Whenever I’m tempted to measure it in worldly terms I just pray about it, and all becomes clear. Oh, me of little faith!
This reflection arises as part of my marketplace ministry.
My Perspective on “Ministry”
I will preface this story by highlighting what I believe my role in the Mall (and in Ministry in general) is all about. Paul, in speaking about apostleship, famously says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). I am most grateful to Tom Wright for so concisely demystifying this verse (in “What Saint Paul really said“), because the verse has long been taught as a reference to Substitutionary Atonement, but it isn’t. It is a recognition that God has commissioned the Christian Minister (in the now fully redeemed spiritual Israel) as an agent of His covenant faithfulness toward the Church. This can be seen by reading from verse 11 (all the way through to 2 Cor 6:13): The “we” Paul is talking about refers to those in the Ministry, not all believers (the believers are referred to as “you”). It means that the apostles speak, “as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20), not all believers. It also means that the apostles “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
This is relevant because I see my role in Ministry in those terms. In any situation, my role is to act out, speak out, live out, and bring about, the will of God, on earth as it is in heaven. The way I react in any situation is expressly informed by this understanding of my calling as a Christian Minister. It means that I act primarily out of a prophetic motivation (which means, acting according to a revelation of God’s will), and those actions may manifest as teaching, preaching, charity, rebuke, prayer, sacrifice, or whatever is on God’s heart to perform for the benefit of His people in that particular situation, in accordance with His covenant faithfulness. This is, for me, what it means to “become the righteousness of God”. I don’t think that all believers are called to do this in the same way.
An Interesting Situation
Most conversations and situations that I encounter simply cannot be related in a blog because they are personal, intimate, private, etc. This one doesn’t really fall into those categories, so I’m going to use it to reflect on my general experiences in the Mall.
Some months ago, one of my friends borrowed some money from another. It wasn’t a wise transaction, as it turns out. It has been the focus of a fair bit of stress between the parties concerned because the money has not been repaid. Numerous phone calls and text messages have been traded, not all of them nice. Both parties complained to me about it.
Being, as I am, always interested in finding resolution to conflict, I actually considered simply paying the debt myself. I could even have justified it under the theological precedent of Christ paying the debts of sinful Israel, but my prayer on the matter convinced me that it was wiser simply to wait it out.
At one stage the lender imposed on me to intervene. I considered the request, weighing up the potential responsibility I have as their advocate (see “My perspective on Ministry” above). But on the other hand, my tendency is not to interfere and instead to narrate life in a didactic way so that people can come to understand the situation from a “kingdom” perspective, and thereby grow wiser in the process. This is, after all, the role that God takes in my own life more often than not, and I can scarcely presume to improve on that. As it happens, it is reasonably close to certain Rabbinical approaches, too.
So I declined to intervene directly, but promised to raise it if I bumped into the borrower. I didn’t.
This week in the Mall, both the borrower and the lender were present. It was the first time they had seen each other since the loan had been made. We all made small talk, and then what I observed was most fascinating:
The lender broached the subject with uncharacteristic self assurance, and also with more courtesy than usual. The borrower apologised for the delay and committed to sorting out the debt. It became clear to me that my silent presence was having a significant effect on the way in which the conversation was being conducted (as evidenced by the eye contact that I was getting from the two parties), and that’s what I’m reflecting on here.
The Presence of God
From what I observed, my presence seems to be an authoritative one in the eyes of both these people. Relationally speaking, this could be said to arise from the mentor-style role that I have, to varying degrees, in both of their lives. Sociologically speaking, it could be said that both people were attributing to me some of the authority of the historical Church because to them, that is what I represent. Spiritually speaking, I was vicariously representing the presence of God as silent witness, and ultimate judge of the hearts of men. They were behaving accordingly. I didn’t put myself in that role, but that is the role in which I was placed by the people.
In another post I reflected on the experience of a person using a swear word, and then instantly being embarrassed when I was introduced to her as “Pastor Kev”. The phenomenon is related, because in relational, sociological, and spiritual terms, my mere presence in my capacity as Christian minister carries God’s authority in some important way. That authority is partly imputed to me by people, and partly imparted to me by God, in Christ.
This is very humbling, and would be downright scary if I wasn’t entirely convinced that I am no more than a vessel, who’s value is reckoned in terms of my inabilities, rather than my abilities. But even if it did bother me, I can’t stop it happening anyway. If I went around disclaiming any supernatural authority it would confuse and alarm people. The truth is that, in taking on the ministry at all, I have accepted the mantle of wielding God’s authority. Jesus said to his disciples: “I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom” (Luke 22:29).
This is not something to be gloried in, as Jesus taught:
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
[Jesus] replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:17-20
In fact, it reveals to me, in ever deepening ways, the tragic abomination that takes place when this kind of authority is abused. Like nuclear energy, this authority simultaneously represents tremendous power and an awful weapon, depending on the wielder of it. I thank God that I can truly say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Because otherwise I would be unable to bear it. The Boss says: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me … apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Amen.
Well, as far as the money goes, it is yet to change hands. But that’s not so important for the time being. The two people reconciled their relationship and forgave one another, and that’s the prize. My only contribution was to comment on two things: the nature of expectations, and how that had affected the whole course of events; and the value in paying a small amount when possible, rather than just failing to pay any. But my comments were offered after the conversation had achieved its desired result: reconciliation.
This was a palpable demonstration of the value of “sitting in the Mall”, bearing fruit. People are doing community the kingdom way, and it’s radically different to the worldly way. It wouldn’t be happening if I was not there. I don’t have to make it happen, and I don’t have to teach people to make it happen. I merely need to become the righteousness of God, and bear fruit.
To worldly eyes, this story must seem unremarkable. In kingdom terms, it is a demonstration of God’s power, and of the efficacy of the Gospel. People can see it however they like, but I’ll be back in the Mall next week for sure.
Other posts in this series:
Marketplace Christianity – In a Marketplace!
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Street Links 2012 – God does not show favouritism.
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Postscript: The money did get repaid eventually.