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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Scriptural Reasoning: Using God's gifts

Our Scriptural Reasoning group considered our use of God's gifts this evening. This is what I said in introducing the Christian text:

Paul’s main role after his conversion was to start new churches in different parts of the Roman Empire. His practice when he arrived in a new city was to preach - either in the synagogue or public square or both. While he continued preaching, he also met with converts in their homes and taught them how to be church. He appointed people in these new churches to be leaders of the church and then moved on to a new area.

So what he means by having laid the foundation for the church at Corinth is that he began the church by preaching and teaching about Jesus, with the teachings about Jesus and the experience of knowing Jesus being the ultimate foundation for the church. He then moved on and the people that he left in charge are the ones who are now building on the foundation that he laid. In other words, they are the ones taking the church forward now.

However, Paul doesn’t leave them behind altogether. He hears news of how they are getting on and he writes to them with advice and further teaching to try to ensure that they develop in the way that he thinks best.

That is the immediate context for the passage. What can it say to us about the use of the gifts that God has given us?

First, Paul is saying that, although the work that we may do is significant, ultimately the work is God’s not ours. We see this in two ways. First, the foundation laid is Jesus. The basis of the work we do for God is God. We are only working for God if we are building on the foundation of God’s revelation of himself. Second, we never complete the work. There is always more to be done and people who will follow us and build on what we have done. This is important as it brings a sense of perspective to what we do. We are working for the long-term not the short-term and we need the input and perspectives of others.

At times in his writings Paul can seem directive and domineering but this tendency is also reigned in to some extent by his awareness that it is God’s work that counts and that he cannot achieve solely by himself and his own resources (which is one reason why he generally travelled with a team of people and created teams of leaders in the churches he established).

Second, our work will be tested. Fire refines or consumes. It burns up wood, hay and straw so it is as though these things never existed but it refines/purifies gold and silver. In Paul’s thinking the test comes at the end of time on the day of judgement but we could also understand testing to be an ongoing, ever-present reality as those around us question and critique what we are doing and the motivations for it. This passage, therefore, seems to encourage us to understand questions and critiques positively as things which can help to refine and better shape the ways in which we use our gifts in God’s service.

In this life the ultimate test is the test of time. What kind of legacy will we leave? Will we, the things we do or the things we make be remembered for any length of time? Will the things we do in the here and now enable other things to occur in the future? Will we have leave a legacy or will the things we do now prove to be ephemeral?


The Swell Season - Low Rising.

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