Saturday, January 21, 2012

PARTNERING IN THE GOSPEL


 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people." And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (9-11).
Why do you come to church every Sunday? Is it just to fill up your week? When people are becoming members, one of the questions that we ask is, ‘what work are you going to be involved in the church?’ This is because one of the responsibilities of the members of any church is to use one’s spiritual gift(s) in order to edify the whole church in accordance to the word of God (Rm. 12:6; 1Cor. 12:7). Many think that the church is run by pastors and members are there only to support the pastors to do this as they themselves are nothing more than consumers! But the truth of the matter is that the pastors are there to support the members in the work of ministry by training them, and equipping them for the work of ministry (4:12). When the Lord saved you and invested the riches of His grace in you, He created you in Christ Jesus for good works, which He had prepared beforehand you particularly so that you should walk in them as His workman. (Ephesians 2:10)
The point that I would like to make is this, what is your role in the furtherance of the gospel? What are you doing so that God may be glorified, His kingdom built, the church strengthened, and people profited? What you’re your priorities in life? Is it owning a prime property so that you can leave a decent life for your children? In that case then you live for your children. Or is it obtaining a PhD in your area of specialization? In that case your ambition is to go the highest one can go in education.
While talking to one young man, 26years old to be precise, who has done his first year at work after graduating from the university, he told me, “my ambition is not to work hard so that I can buy a nice car, build a four bedroom house, marry, have three children, invest in real estate and leave a decent inheritance for them and then retire and die. No my ambition is to be of greatest profit to the kingdom of God in service to God and his people. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be a pastor or anything like that, but to serve the Lord in all I do so that I may be able to say of my family, ‘as for me and my family we will serve the Lord’ even when on the verge of death like Joshua being convinced that my family will serve Christ and His church, with me and in my absence.
The question for us to consider this morning is how we can be partners in the gospel propagation? Whether we are secretaries or business people, drivers or CEOs, hustlers or students, wherever we live and work, is not the issue is that we all are supposed to be in a close partnership to spread the supremacy of Christ in our spheres of influence – our families and relatives, friends and colleagues.  The lessons for us from this passage are very clear, believers are partners in the gospel and so each one of us ought not to be content in being an observer in the kingdom of God and for those who are not yet there, they are called upon to consider the examples of these people that we read and how blessed of the Lord they were.

Therefore notice then in the first place that, partnership in the gospel is a process that begins with believing in Christ.
For a man to be in a business partnership with another, he must have a great measure of trust in the person. For one to be about the Heavenly Father’s business he must be commit his life to His Son Jesus Christ because the Father’s business require a character of Christ – one that has had his sins dealt with. Trust and confidence in Christ is the beginning of the process of being involved in this partnership.
In this passage we read of a ruler of the synagogue in Corinth called Crispus who, together with his entire household, believed in the Lord and was baptized (v.8) and so became part of those called out by the Lord to be His own people for His use in Corinth. His entire household refers to his wife, sons and daughters, closer relatives and servants living in his house. This is the way Luke uses the word in this book. It does appear that Crispus’ other name is Gaius because he gave his house to host the new community of believers and the brethren so that Paul records that he is host in Romans 16:23.
But Crispus was not even the first convert in Corinth, for we read in 1 Corinthians 16:15 that “… you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” Stephanas was also converted with his family and they were a great example in commitment and devotion to the service of other brethren. But the beginning is being converted so that one puts his trust and faith in Christ. The household of Chloe (a woman) seem to have been so interested in the church in Corinth that they reported to Paul what divisive politics were going on as Paul wrote in 1Cor. 1:11. But they were as well converted.
Then we know of Sosthenes, who succeeded Stephanas as the synagogue ruler as another one who became a Christian and so a member of the church in Corinth. Then there are other members of the church such as Erastus the city treasurer and Quarters who are referred to as brothers (Rom. 16:23). We know of Fortunatus, Achaicus and Tertius (Who transcribed for Paul the letter to the Romans) from Romans 16:22.
Clearly, partnership in the gospel starts with one acknowledging his sinful condition as well as accepting and trusting Jesus Christ as the one and only able to save him from sins. It is then marked by a resolve to repent of the sins, and to turn away from these sins to Christ as his way of living. It is also marked by one identifying oneself with the people of Christ (the Christians as those who would help to remain focused and accountable to Christ walking towards eternity doing the will of Christ. This is what I mean is the beginning of the end. This is the reason why the church in Corinth had people who can be known now. Those who believe in Christ become part of His community on earth so that they can serve Him.

Secondly, Partnership in the gospel is marked by the willingness to give time for the gospel
The greatest work in the partnership in the work of the Lord is giving and making time for making Christ known by proclaiming the gospel through active witness in life and deed and in Word. In this passage we read of a good number of people are so actively involved in the gospel that it is evident that this is their first priority in being members of the church. We read of Paul, Silas and Timothy as those fully devoted their time to it as a team. Then of Aquila and his wife, Priscilla and Apollos.
Paul arrived in Corinth in 50AD, with a deliberate intention of winning the lost for Christ. Although he did not have money, nowhere to live and almost knew no one, but he was set to do one thing – to witness and proclaim Jesus Christ as the Saviour both for Jews and for Gentiles! Although he got discouraged at some point, for this was the reason why the Lord had to appear to him personally to give him promises and assurances to strengthen him for ministry. The Lord told him, "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people." And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. It is not so easy to be kicked out every now and then in every city and carry on as if nothing happened because he was not a Stoic philosopher. Sometimes, pastors are encouraged and many times they are discouraged and it is for you to encourage them as one brother encouraged me this last week.
This encouragement that the Lord gave Paul is the same for all of us when we are engaged in the work of ministry – that the Lord has the people that will save because He appointed them for life, way before even laying the foundation of the world. This is what we read in Ephesians that, He chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:4-5). It is God who saves and so we read that it those who are appointed for eternal life who believe (13:48). It is the Lord who opened the heart of Lydia (16:14). It is Him who saves by His grace, it is Him who makes sure that those He chose for salvation are predestined and are called into the salvation by the gospel proclamation at the appointed time and by those He has sent. At the same time the same He justifies and  sanctifies by His Spirit and the same are glorified (Romans 8:29-30). What an assurance! 
Your salvation is not an afterthought; it was well planned and from the beginning to the end and all you need to do is take seriously the promise that Christ is willing and able to save you to the uttermost if you will put trust in Him. And the question I ask you is, Why Not! Why not believe? Why not ask him forgiveness of sins, why not request Him for mercy if He is so willing?
Paul gave his time also to teaching and strengthening the disciples and so in Corinth we read that he was occupied with the Word testifying to the Jews (v.5). He stayed for 18 months in Corinth teaching the word of God among them (v.11) and so the leading Jews in the synagogue were persuaded so as to be converted and so the synagogue was losing the most influential people until they became jealous. He travelled to different places with the first interest being to meet with the church (as in Caesarea) and then he went to report all that had happened in the second missionary journey in Antioch (v.22). He then began the third missionary journey (23ff), starting with strengthening all the disciples from place to place like Galatia, Phrygia, etc.
Silas and Timothy on the other hand were willing to spend their time and their strength together to reach out more people geographically. The last time we heard about them is when they were left in Berea, amid a torrent of problems that prompted the sending away of Paul to Athens. While they were in Macedonia, they did the work of ministry that Paul could not do. Brethren, you need to realize that there is the work of ministry that I as a pastor, I am not able to do, but you can do it very comfortably. For example, how can I ever meet those in your offices or your colleagues at school? How can I ever get to know your neighbors? And why do I even need to know them when you are there anyway? It is your responsibility to reach out with the gospel as you carry on with your work like Aquila and Priscilla.
When Paul arrived in Corinth he heard of this Jewish couple, Aquila of Pontus and his wife Priscilla, who apart from having national and spiritual ties, there was also a professional or business tie. They had been deported from Rome for being Jews and Christians for that matter because someone had reported to Caesar that one called Chrestus (misspelling of Christus (Christ), according to Tertullian) was causing disturbance or riots.
And when he requested to stay with them they promptly agreed. It is clear that this couple were people willing to spend and be spent in work of making Christ known in that that  they were as much willing and eager to propagate the gospel. Even when Paul left Corinth, he went with them to Syria and Ephesus, where he left them to carry on with the work because there was much need there. While there they invited Apollos and when they saw some deficiency in his preaching took him aside (probably to their house to explain things more clearly to them (v.26).)
Apollos, a native of Alexandria (Africa), who travelled to Ephesus, not for business or anything else but for spreading the word of God is recorded as a man who was not only willing and eager but also gifted and up to the task of spreading the gospel. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. He spoke boldly in the synagogue. He was qualified in every way except for only one flaw – he only knew of the baptism of John.
May the Lord help us, who have the truth to have the sort of zeal and boldness that Apollos had that we may do exploits for the Lord. You notice that with the little he knew, he expressed it so that he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:27-28). This is what everyone has been called to do, in his own way. As a result of the ministries of these different people, there were many converts throughout Achaia for he writes the second letter to the Corinthians, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: (2Cor.1:1).

In the third place, partnering in the gospel is proved by willingness to give financially.
The other day I heard a reformed Baptist pastor say that Baptists are baptized with their hands up holding their wallets and purses. That is, the last thing to be converted to Christianity among the Baptists is their money! Well, I do not know how true it is but there might be some bit of truth in it, that we Baptists are not willing to commit our property to the Lord and so it is reported that tent-making is most common among the Baptists.
Paul had to work with his own hands in order to support the work of ministry until Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia. The statement shows that Paul was pressed in the spirit – he was under constraints (probably financially constrained) to testify to the Jews.
 Should a pastor have tent-making work and not be dependent on the support of the Christians. YES, if the Christians are unable to support him because of their condition, so that there would be no hindrance to the spread of the gospel. In this case then the minister will enjoy the full blessings and the church will only enjoy the blessings of his ministry but not of being partners in the work – because they are only consumers. This explains why a minister of the gospel is supposed to be completely freed by the church from providing for himself so as to devote Himself fully to the work of ministry.
Otherwise NO, because even in the Old Testament the Priests were to be provided by other people in order to be fully devoted to the work the Lord gave them. In cases where the pastors have to provide for themselves, a lot of time that could have been used for ministry is taken up in tent-making. In the New Testament, the Lord very clearly instructed His disciples when He was sending them out in Matthew 10:9-10, “Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.” The laborer deserves his wages. (Luke 10:7)
Although Paul believed in tent-making, his priority was not to make money but to provide for himself so as not to put a burden on people who had not even become Christians. This is why I believe it is wrong for preachers to ask people in a crusade to give money or for those who preach in buses to ask for offerings – because their churches ought to support them. So although Paul was a tent-maker himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wrote in 1Corinthians 9:14, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” And again, “For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages" (1Timothy 5:18). We read that the apostles in Jerusalem church devoted themselves fully to the work of ministry of prayer and of the word (Acts 6:2,4), setting the example for full time ministry that is free from material pressure.
Thankfully Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia and brought the support from there so that Paul was able to carry on with the work unhindered. He wrote back to them,
 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way (2 Corinthians 11:9).
And again to the church in Philippi, he thanked them saying,
Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. (Philippians 4:14-15)

Finally, partnership in the gospel is confirmed by the willingness to suffer for it
Here we read of people of different trade who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ. (Acts 5:41). This ought to be our attitude because it is our first ambition to please the Lord – not men. Throughout the book of Acts and through all the centuries, Christians have always born the brunt of the enemies of Christ. They have been reviled and mistreated, they have been abused and killed as Paul writes of his own experiences,
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; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)
Are you willing to go through all these for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you not better off as the things are where you only worry over your own problems? But you see the point is that your own faith is tested by the fire of trial. And you know that, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7).
What sort of people do we find in this passage? Some are fulltime ministers like Paul who have had to endure beatings in every city. But if even the Apostle of the Sovereign master himself was not spared, why should you expect to be treated differently? If this same world of sin rejected its only Saviour how can you hope for anything else? Paul was mistreated in almost all the towns including the Jews of Corinth, until he had to shake his garments to pronounce to them that as the watchman to warn them of the impeding danger; their blood was upon them like it is in Ezekiel 33:4. Thankfully here he got the support the Lord who was not going to let anyone harm him and of the government, because Gallio refused to listen to the petition from the Jews by telling them that he was not going to listen to religious issues in a civil court. It is a shame that even now we have brethren taking each other to court when the civil courts, know that they are there not to determine such issues.
Sosthenes bore the wrath of the mob because he had converted from being the ruler of the synagogue to become a Christian. We should not be ashamed of the Lord or to defend His worthy course. We also notice that Aquila and Priscilla had been deported from Rome, probably because of their faith. If we are not willing to suffer for the Lord, then we are not worthy Him.
That we are not willing to bear any cost of following the Lord whether of time, finances or of suffering, is a great mark against the genuineness of the faith that you profess. One who has been saved from the perdition of sin, one who has tasted the Lord is good, would be willing to go and sell everything he has to invest in the things of eternity. One who has known the goodness of the Lord will be willing to spend and to be spent on the course of Christ.
Any encounter with Christ will make one not to be silent because it is such a remarkable thing that you cannot keep it to yourself. For this reason, the disciples even when they were threatened by the Sanhedrin kept on saying that they could not keep quiet. Those who have come to the living hope will not keep it to themselves, they will share it with others because there is enough room for you and for many others in all time. Do you know that those who are not in Christ are in the way that leads to destruction? There should be the desire and will to call many others who in the way that leads to destruction because we are genuinely concerned about their welfare.

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