February 2, 2015
Over the next few months, we are going to focus on what it means to participate in God’s mission, to join God in the work he is doing. 1 Corinthians 9:23 will serve as our launch point for this conversation. In the New English Translation (NET), it reads, “I do all these things because of the Gospel, so that I can be a participant in it.”
Verse 23 is the closing statement in a passage of Scripture in which Paul describes how he “gains” as many converts as possible…other translations use the word “win” rather than gain. Verse 22 summarizes everything by saying, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Passages like this one sometimes cause us to ponder what Paul was really trying to say. Was he telling us to accommodate all things and all people? Is he giving us a different way to say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?” Is he telling us to assimilate? And what about being a participant in the Gospel…what is Paul trying to convey with that language.
Paul uses the language of partnership or participation throughout the New Testament. He sees his work within the context of the work God is doing. He is saying he walks alongside those he serves in order that he might understand their difficulties, their struggles, and their culture. Augustine puts it this way. When serving others, Augustine remarks, we must be “thinking sympathetically.” In that way, we can begin to discern how God might be at work.
Ministry is not about us or our unique skill set. It is not about how well we proclaim the Gospel or how perfectly we perform the tasks of ministry. Yes, God deserves our best work and we should commit ourselves to growing in our abilities and understanding. At the end of the day, however, we must remember that our mandate is to participate in the work of the Gospel.
We have the unique opportunity to join God in mission. As you venture into the next chapter of your story, I invite you to remember that God is the author. God has planted each of us in a particular context. Rather than writing a story based on what you think ministry should be and do in that context, I invite you to consider how you might be a participant in the work God is doing.