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God’s Agents of Reconciliation

by Justin Simmons

     What does it look like to be God’s agents of reconciliation in today’s world?  In II Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that indeed is what we are, and that God is making his appeal through us, pleading for people to be reconciled to him. 

     Paul seems to have anticipated the question as we move into II Corinthians 6.  He writes to the Corinthians, a church with which he seems to be in some level of conflict, the following:

     Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”  Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.  11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (II Corinthians 6:1-13 ESV)

     There are a number of things that I feel are instructive for us in all of this.  We live in a time that is increasingly hostile to the gospel, in an age that is growing ever more secular.  Yet, Paul faced far more challenging circumstances.  In many places, like Corinth, he was planting and then nurturing churches from scratch.  Perhaps there was a small group of Jews that made up part of the church, who would have been familiar with the story of what God had done from the beginning- creating the world, calling a single man named Abraham to be the father of a special people, leading that special people out of hundreds of years of slavery…  However, for the most part the people of Corinth would have been largely ignorant of the story of God’s working in the world.  So what was Paul’s approach, working with churches in a context where the entire world seemed set against the message of the gospel?

     First, Paul is explicit about the fact that he is working with God. 

How often do we go to work for God, without thinking about how we should be working with God.  I believe the very letter of II Corinthians itself, written nearly 2,000 years ago, is evidence of how Paul worked with God.  It was Paul’s hand and mind at work when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians, but it was the Spirit of God that was leading him in the task.  Perhaps you are familiar with ergonomics, the study of how we work safely and effectively.  Every year as a substitute teacher for our local school  I am made to attend a “safety meeting,” in which we watch a video about safety in the workplace.  This video addresses hazards we might encounter at work, and how doing things improperly can lead to injury.  Each year we receive very important reminders about the danger of standing in swivel chairs, and the importance of lifting with our legs rather than our back.  They tell us the ideal distance to place our computer monitor away from our eyes, and how to sit so as to not injure our back, neck, or wrists while typing.  When Paul says he is working together with God, he uses the word synergountes.  You hear “ergo” in there, because our word for ergonomics comes from the Greek word ergo, which means “work”.  I say all of that to make this point.  Our spiritual work environment is extremely hazardous, it is ergonomically harmful, if we are trying to accomplish things spiritually apart from God.  Why do we feel like we can conquer sin without the help of the one who forgave our sins through the death of his Son on the cross?  Why do we feel we can reach others for God, without involving God in the process?  Maybe instead of talking to others about God, we should be engaging them with God.  I have noticed that many Christians, including myself, gladly accept what Christ did for us on the cross, but then we say, “thanks for that God, but I’ve got it from here.”  Thanks for pulling me out of the ditch God and getting me back up on the road, I can take it from here.  Could it be, perhaps, that the reason we were in the ditch to begin with is because we were insistent on being behind the wheel and trying to drive apart from the help of God?  Paul is very clear about the fact that he is working with God. 

     Second, as he works (with God) Paul possesses a sense of urgency. 

To communicate this sense of urgency, Paul makes use of the Old Testament.    He quotes the book of Isaiah, when he refers to God’s statement: “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”  Paul is pulling from a part of Isaiah that speaks to the restoration of Israel after her exile.  Paul often does this type of thing.  He uses a literary device where he quotes a single verse, knowing that it will call to mind the entire context in which the verse is written.  If I were to sing, “oh say can you see?”,  do I need to sing the rest?  Or, do those five words immediately invoke in your mind the national anthem of the United States, the stars and stripes fluttering in the breeze?  Well, Paul does this same type of thing, quoting a single verse, which he knows will call to mind the broader context of the passage.   In that spirit, if you read not only what Paul quotes, but a few verses beyond it, here is what you would have:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
    in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
    to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
    on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them. (Isaiah 49:8-10 ESV)

     The prophet Isaiah spends a lot of time warning Israel of the judgment to come.  However, woven in with those themes of judgment are also small threads of hope…of restoration.  Isaiah tells the people of Israel that there will be an exile…but that after the exile, after the judgment, God would restore them as a people to the land he had given them.  God will say to the prisoners, “come out!,” and to those who are in darkness, “appear!” 

     Just as Israel had their day of redemption, despite their unfaithfulness…so also humanity has theirs.  Just as God led the Israelites back and told them to “come out!” from their prison, so also he leads us back to a relationship with him, calling us out of the prison of sin and death.  Paul wants us to understand that God has done that most definitively and decisively in Christ.  The cosmic story of restoration was written with the blood of Jesus on the cross. 

I have yet to hear of a prisoner who has asked to stay longer than their sentence required. 

     Last September, many of us here in central Louisiana spent a week or two living off of generators after Hurricane Laura.  When the power was finally restored, none of us said, “it’s great that the power is back on, but I think I’d rather run my generator a little longer.”  Why would we so enthusiastically embrace the physical freedom of being released from prison, or the physical comfort of central AC being restored in the hot southern summer…but not embrace the spiritual salvation that is our in Christ?   Now is the favorable time!  Now is the day of salvation!  Do we live each day with a sense of urgency when it comes to the things of God?

     Third, Paul doesn’t bury the lead.

Paul write, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (II Corinthians 6:3-4I don’t think there are many of us in here that would knowingly put an obstacle in someone else’s way when it comes to knowing Jesus.  Jesus himself said that if we cause a little one to sin, it would be better for us if a millstone were tied around our neck and we were thrown into the sea.  We would never actively discourage anyone from pursuing a relationship with Christ.  Instead, here is what I think happens.  We clutter up life with so many other things that compete for time and attention and resources that while Christ is still there, it becomes harder to recognize his importance. 

     I still remember what a youth minister told me one time.  He said “we are always told that on our list of priorities God should be first.  In reality, he should be the only priority, with everything else falling underneath him.

     That’s why Paul is determined to figure out how he can use anything and everything, even the bad things, so talk about and proclaim Jesus.   

Paul lists all of these things, most of the them negative, “afflictions, hardships, calamities,  beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” 

     Yet, even in these negative things he sees opportunities to point others to Christ.  He knows that how they handle life’s challenges and set backs will say as much, if not more, about them as ambassadors of Christ than how they handle the good times. 

I love the phrase he uses: “with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.”

Righteousness, God’s righteousness, is not one option among many.  It is the only option.  And if we have not seized it with both hands, as it has been made available to us in Christ, then we are sending a mixed message.  We are burying the lead. 

     If you were to Google V-E Day newspapers, guess what you would find as the headline in each and every one of them?  It wasn’t the final score of the ball game, or the weather forecast, or what the stock market was doing.  It was “Victory in Europe!”  It was front page, above the fold as they say.  If one of the newspapers had put the story about the war in Europe coming to an end on page 5 people would have said they are crazy.  Why would you bury the lead like that!?  Yet, we do it every day.  We take the front page news of the gospel, the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ, and we allow all the other stuff that goes on in life to bump it to the second, or the third, or the fourth page.  All the while, we wonder why the church is shrinking, atheism is on the rise, and we aren’t making disciples of Christ like we should.   

     We began with the question- what does it mean to be God’s agents of reconciliation in this ever-darkening world?  It means working not only for God, but with God.  t means proclaiming the gospel with a sense of urgency.  And it means putting the good news of what Christ has done for us on the front page of our lives.  It means we should live our lives in such a way that we don’t bury the lead. 

 

           Justin Simmons is minister of the Glenmora Church of Christ, Glenmora, LA.




One Response to “God’s Agents of Reconciliation”

  1. Buford says:

    Thank you for encouraging words. Your article is on target.



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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10