This is how one should regard us, s servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

1 Corinthians 4: 1

 

By definition, a steward is a person who takes care of things, who manages them and who keeps order. Stewardship is the process of maintaining this well-thought out and orderly operation. Paul thinks of himself in this manner. He sees his calling and that of others who, like him, are following Christ by entering into the lives of others as they bring the truth of God’s Word and the direction of His Spirit to the forefront in all aspects of life and of living as being to stewardship. As they work in service to Christ and His Gospel, they strive to restore the order in this world that was lost in our sinful departure from God’s righteous path. We ate the fruit, but instead of God-like wisdom, we obtained a godless capacity to wreak havoc and bring about unceasing chaos. As we attempt to control everything ourselves, life seems to proceed as if we have covered our fragile world with grease and our hands with rubber mittens.

 

We fumble our way through it all and break precious things along the path that we travel. Mostly, we pour out ungodly or other-god oriented views of how this world should be managed as if they were a new and a more informed gospel. We say that we value order and seek after peace, but the fact is, we do not truly desire either. Order and peace are foundational qualities that God designed into the form of life that He created for this world to enjoy. These are aspects of that creation intent and execution that we turned over and tossed out in our rejection of God’s authority over us, and that have been lost in the world that we have claimed as our own. Yet, God does not leave things that He loves in disarray and confusion. Jesus came, and He pronounced the renewed presence of God’s kingdom of peace. Christ brings that peace into our lives as He restores us to the unceasing relationship with our Creator that was ours to enjoy in God’s plan for this world.

 

The possibility of living in a state of deep-seated peace with God and of dwelling inside of the orderliness of His vision for the universe is one of the great mysteries of the Kingdom of God. The evidence that we see around us does not support the existence of this peace and order, but the testimony of God’s people tells of its reality. This is why Paul understood the vital importance of the role of steward of these great mysteries of life in Christ. He presented them to the people that he met and to us in his letters. God’s Word does the same with the entire narrative of God’s vision, intent, and execution of redemption and restoration for all who will come to Him. So, like Paul, we too are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of this faith that leads to a life. This is a life that stands apart from this world, and so, it joins in the chorus of testimony, along with Paul and all who have come before us, to these great mysteries of peace and order, of life in Christ.

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But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Philippians 3: 20, 21

 

Paul was onto something. He knew one of the truly great secrets of the universe; something that brings miracles into being, and its basis is described in these words. They are not some form of incantation or magic spell that needs to be recited in a certain way or at a specified time; instead, these words describe a relationship and a way of viewing life and of living it that comes forth out of that relationship. In Christ, we change homelands and gain a different set of allegiances. Through Christ, the way that we view the world around us is also reshaped along the lines of the way that God views His Creation. Because of Christ, the Spirit works within and upon us to transform our hearts and minds into ones that are no longer focused upon the darkness of this world but that are oriented toward the glory of the Lord.

 

This new way of believing, of thinking, and of viewing the world around us changes the nature of our responses to others and to the life situations that we encounter. Sin is still sin, wrong and hurt are still painful, and that which is lost remains troubling; yet, Christ brings His redemptive view of it all to exist within our otherwise earth-bound and worldly view. So, Christ opens our eyes to see forgiveness where we might see strife. He brings us to offer grace when it would seem that rebuke might feel more powerful. We come to see the Lord of the Universe bending down to touch those who were unclean and stopping to scandalously enter into talk of true love with a shameful woman. Thus, in seeing Jesus with the eyes of a heart that is awakened to His desire to call each of us into service to His Gospel, we too can stop in the midst of our seemingly important journey through life and bend down to lift up those who are beaten down and fragile and to enter into the stories of others who have been cast aside by the proper and too correct authorities of our day.

 

As He did with Paul, Christ transforms the rules for living for us, too. Our citizenship in heaven also means that we are now to live under the laws and within the economy of God’s Kingdom come upon the earth. We now dwell in a place that is framed in by the presence of the Spirit and whose boundaries are defined by all the God claims as His own. In this sort of land, all of us who know Christ are called upon by God to seek peace with everyone, to love all others with a form of love that willingly sacrifices self in order to portray Christ and His love, that grants grace and mercy to those who seem least deserving of either, and that serves the will of our only true King, Jesus Christ, in all matters. This is a place where we still stand on truth and hold God’s Word as holy, absolute, and righteous, but we also possess the freedom in Christ to deliver this eternal truth with the sort of love that God framed it in at its inception. We are here for one purpose and that is to bring the redemptive love of our Savior into direct contact with every person and place in our world that we may go during each of our days here.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12: 18

 

This statement is about as conditional as Paul ever gets, for he rarely leaves this much to our own discretion and understanding of the situation. Yet, here in this proverbial saying that is placed within a string of similar expressions, we are told to do something “If possible.” So, whose possibility is to make that determination? If it is mine, then there may be very few times when I am really going to live peaceably with people who rub me the wrong way, or hold views about issues that differ from mine, or come from a different cultural background than mine. The possibility for exception to that directive to live peaceably gets to be very long quite quickly, and the list of people with whom I am living in peace becomes short enough that I can readily handle it on my own.

 

Perhaps that is really the point. God’s desire for us in all aspects of life is that we would let go of control and surrender all of it to Him. So, in this very challenging area of relationships with other people, God is giving us the option of releasing our grip upon the rules for acceptance or rejection of others or of holding onto them so that we manage the way that we interact with the human elements of our world. To me, this places the idea of possibility into an entirely different light. It says that my relational boundaries and barriers can be either as narrow as my own definitions and comfort or they can be as expansive and inclusive as are God’s. This is the real choice that Paul is proposing to us, and it is one that he had entered into, himself, as a significant aspect of Paul’s coming to Christ involved the reordering of his view of God’s mission for him in relation to accepting or persecuting people who viewed their relationship with God differently than did Paul, the Pharisee.

 

It seems to me that entering fully into the possibilities in connecting with and caring about and for others is predicated upon surrender to Christ. The more of myself that I give over to my Lord in submission to His will, the more likely it is that I will see the lovable and the beautiful in people who would otherwise make me uncomfortable or worse. There is no one on this earth who Christ cannot love. There are no people for whom He did not die in order to redeem them from the death that belongs to all who are born into this world. So, there should be very few people who I am unable to care about and to love with a similar passion and redemptive desire. Now, I am not Christ, and all of this depends upon the response of others in order for me to be able to live peaceably with them, but, in so far as I am able to impact the outcome of the interaction, I can yield my attitudes, actions, and responses to Christ with my heart and mind set upon doing all that I can to enter into productive life together with all of the people that God grants me the gift of encountering during my days.

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5: 5

 

Promises, promises, promises; our lives are interlaced with commitments received and given, others that are kept or broken, and trust or lack of it that is developed through these interactions. Sometimes people fail to keep their pledges because they honestly tried yet failed to follow through. Other people can be disingenuous or even deliberately deceitful; and circumstances can conspire to defeat our best intentions. Additionally, we all know that governments and large corporate entities often lack the sort of fundamental integrity that makes their word good; at least that is how it too often seems.

 

Here, Paul gives us a promise from God that we can truly count on, for this is one that we can stake our lives upon. In the verses just before this one Paul has been discussing the fact that this life is filled with pain, struggles, and hardship and that the very fabric of our earthly existence is flawed, failing, and will be destroyed. He also has shared with us the fact that, in Christ, this is actually a good, hopeful, and desirable state of affairs. As the old person with our sin damaged and ravaged makeup is set aside and surrendered to the transformative work of Christ in and on us, we begin to be reformed into the new beings that God has planned for us to be. This process will not be completed in this life, and it is, at best, just a preview of the glory that we will know in eternity with Christ. Yet, God promises this new relationship with Him and this new life in His complete presence to everyone who accepts His gift of salvation through Jesus.

 

Throughout the history of human interaction with God, He has continually provided us with a clear picture of His intent to have an active and ongoing relationship with us, and the Lord has made the sincerity of His intentions known to us by making promises to us. This is another of those promises. Here God has done more than give His word. Here God has provided His presence in our lives as a tangible sign that functions much like the earnest money that we put down when we commit to make a major purchase such as a house. The Spirit of God is with us throughout our lives, and He is an ever present and very tangible reminder of the fact that God has promised to never leave us in this life, and He helps us to see and to hope for the promise of our eternal future.

 

My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Have you ever experienced uncertainty or become so weary from trying to live righteously in this troubled world that it felt like you were going to be swept over the edge of a towering cliff at any moment? Right, I didn’t think that I was totally alone in these responses to life. This world is a big time highly stressful place to exist. Also, Paul is generally a fairly practical guy; for, he lived his life in the center of the storm that happens whenever people who desire and seek to serve the Lord venture out into their communities and engage in bringing the truth of Christ to others. So, my conclusion is that realistic Paul wouldn’t tell us to do or to be something that couldn’t be done.

 

In order to avoid the inevitable sense of futility that comes when my desire to serve Christ intersects with all of the road blocks that spring up in front of my path, I am required to find my direction and the strength to carry on from a very special source. Christ calls me to follow Him and to do His work in my world. If this work is to reach the sort of potential that He knows exists, I must allow someone else to make decisions with me. Finally, if I am to stay the path of that calling through times of personal failure, disappointment with others, and the distractions that life brings my way; my feet need to be firmly set on a foundation that is stronger and that runs deeper than anything that I can fabricate on my own.

 

This all seems so complex to my mind; yet, it all has one relatively simple answer. Jesus, the Christ, is God’s response to every concern that I can contemplate. Jesus, who gave all so that I can live in the complete fullness of God’s riches is all that I need. Jesus, whose Spirit goes through everything in this life with me is my guide and counselor. Jesus, the One who took all of my sin and the shame that it brought to me onto His back is my strength. Jesus, the One who loves me despite all of my hurtful acts and deceitful thoughts holds me steady through all of the trials and the storms that attempt to drive me away from the Lord’s way. Jesus, there is nothing more; so, how can I accept anything less?

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one.

1 Corinthians 8: 4

 

As we start out today, I am making an assumption, and that is that very few of us are concerned about the consumption of foodstuffs that were previously used as sacrifices to various types and forms of gods or in other religious practices. This was a real issue in Paul’s world, and it is simply not as obviously pervasive in ours as it was in his. Yet, the fact that idols exist is something that I think is important for us to consider in our culture and in our lives, and almost in contrast to the approach that Paul took toward the sacrificial foods, I think that the way that we feed our idols and the idolatrous foods that we consume are important to consider.

 

We live in an age of consumption. It often seems that the primary fuel that feeds our world is made up of the goods and the services that we can purchase and utilize for the sake of personal enjoyment, pleasure, and self-worth appeasement. These things that take on great importance to us are not very different from the idols that were so prevalent in Paul’s times, for they too demand our attention, bring us to a place of worship for their sake, and engage our passion as disciples to their cause and of their personage. We can each look introspectively at our lives and into our hearts in order to determine where this sort of over zealous commitment to things of this world might be found. They can be relatively minor in their impact upon living for Christ, and they can be powerfully consuming and devastating to the same purpose and calling.

 

Regardless of the depth of commitment to the idol or of the amount of personal resource it demands from us, everything that ascends to this level of ownership over us is something that drives its wedge of distraction and distance between Christ and us. Anything that takes us away from our ability to focus on the Lord’s calling and commission for our lives or that places itself above Christ in priority for us, even if this is only momentary in duration, is an idol, and it will demand that we feed it out of the precious resource that is our love, devotion, and submission to righteousness. Fortunately Paul also gives us an answer to this universal challenge. He points us toward the one singular truth that changes everything in the fact that there is only one real God. All of these other things are false and are made by our hands out of the raw materials that God, Himself, created for us. So, everything in life that takes us away from serving Christ with the fullest possible expression of our heart and the complete engagement of our passions can and should be placed behind Christ so that all of our being is dedicated without distraction or diversion to service to our God.

 

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

2 Timothy 1: 3

 

There is something beautifully simple present here in Paul’s words that I think often gets lost in the fog and the haze of daily life. This is an attitude of thankfulness. The Apostle seems to be holding out his thanksgiving as a very broad idea and a remarkably open one too. Now Paul was not dwelling in comfort or safety when he set out these ideas. He was a prisoner in Rome in the brutally oppressive times when Nero was the Emperor. Paul was certainly going to die in the near future, and he was fully aware of this fact. He was separated from his dear friends and traveling companions, and his valuable work of sharing the Gospel of Christ throughout the gentile world had come to a halt. From a natural and a human perspective these were hard times.

 

Yet, Paul sees the good in it all, for he sees Christ in his days. This is not some mystical vision or self-deluded refusal to face into reality. Rather, Paul seems to have a vision of the greater reality of life in this world as a follower of the Lord of Creation. Rather than viewing his situation and circumstances as desperate or hopeless, he comprehends the opportunities to serve Christ that are there before him. Instead of focusing on how hard his days are or upon the grim prospects for his life’s future, Paul is reflecting upon the many ways that people have entered into his days and given special care and consideration to him. All of this brings him to a place where his spirit is lifted and his mind seems to be clear as he expresses praise and thanksgiving to God and for all that has been granted to him in this life.

 

It seems that thanksgiving is something that has become a part of the rhythm of Paul’s days. So, by looking at his example, I am challenged to follow his lead in this matter. When life is viewed from the perspective of Christ’s engagement with me and with His loving sacrifice as the filter for everything, all that takes place in my days and to me can be cause for thanksgiving and praise to God. From the breath that I breathe in and expel from my lungs to the purpose that my existence enjoys, all of my life and everything that influences its course is a gift from God. Even sickness, pain, loss, grief, disappointment and failure serve to guide my steps along a path that belongs to Christ. As I hold the image of my Lord before my heart in an on-going prayer of devotion, He speaks to me a truth that is deeply embedded in the foundations of Creation and that truth is the basis for hope eternal and the reason for expressing thankfulness in and to all.