Saturday, July 19, 2014

Advice for Preachers from R.B. Kuiper

"A simple and conversational yet forceful sermon delivery commands both respect and response. Enthusiasm inspires. Logic is convincing, the illogical confusing. As preachers, let us have a heart. Let us stop wearying our audiences. Let us make our preaching so absorbingly interesting that even the children would rather listen to us than draw pictures and will thus put to shame their paper-and-pencil-supplying parents." -R.B. Kuiper

God's Ambassador Training is a bit different

Paul's second inspired letter to the Corinthians is quite different from the first.  In First Corinthians Paul addresses a splintered congregation issue by issue.  It is clear he intends to follow up the letter with a personal visit. The visit is delayed, at least from the perspective of the church, and nay-sayers start to drum up opposition to Paul's apostolic authority.  They basically accuse Paul of being big on talk but not so big on action or presence.  So Paul has to defend his ministry while at the same time continue to edify and build up the church.  Second Corinthians' pastoral intent is about cultivating ambassadors for Christ.

Ambassadorship is an interesting concept.  An ambassador is an official representative of a country's leader or leadership group.  Christians are ambassadors for Christ.  We are to be his representatives. After all, in chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians, Paul says-"We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us..."

I have met a national ambassador this past year. Dr. Tebelelo Mazile Seretse (pictured above) is the very striking ambassador to the United States from Botswana.  She is sharp, articulate, engaging, intelligent, and just very impressive.  When you meet her, there is no question why the leaders of Botswana would select her to represent their country.  She is highly educated and very experienced with business, diplomacy, and community development.  She has been well prepared over her lifetime to be a strong, able, and effective ambassador.  It makes sense, right?  You would want to have a person trained and proven over time, before you make him or her a representative of your country. Preparation, strengthening, and readying a person to be a solid, impacting representative.

Well, that's not God's approach to preparing us to be effective ambassadors for Christ.

According to Paul, instead of taking our credentials and improving them or choosing us on the basis of preparedness and strength- He breaks us down and weakens us.  Yes, God's model for ambassador training is to deplete us of any self-dependence.  In chapter 5 of 2 Corinthians, Paul declares us to be ambassadors, but in the chapters preceding, he explains how affliction and suffering serve to lay the smack down on us so we are humbled and usable by God.

Notice how Paul starts to address the Corinthians in the first chapter-

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer."

Clearly Paul expects the ambassadors of Christ to be experiencing serious challenges and problems.  Paul is no prosperity preacher.  He says the norm for the ambassadors of Christ will be struggle and affliction. David Garland, in his excellent commentary on 2 Corinthians, says it well-

“Suffering comes for anyone who preaches the gospel in a world twisted by sin and roused by hostility to God. If God’s apostle (Paul) experienced so much distress in carrying out his commission, then we can see that God does not promise prosperity or instant gratification even to the most devoted of Christ’s followers.”

So the pattern of ambassador training and preparation becomes clear in 2 Corinthians: Affliction->Weakness-> God's gracious comfort->Resurrection.  You might put it this way: Affliction->Comfort->Glory. 

Paul certainly isn't saying that every believer will suffer the same level of affliction, indeed, he chronicles his incredible experience of many hardships to show it could always be worse.  Paul is saying, however, that effective ambassadorship for Christ happens as our weakness is brought to the forefront, so that God can comfort us with His grace and manifest his power through and over our frailty.  I think this is the essence of what Paul says related to God's refusing to remove his "thorn".  There was a purpose in keeping Paul weak.  Paul recounts God's explanation-

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Yes, we are ambassadors for Christ.  Just know how this glorious ambassadorship works.  God's comfort will be with us.