Summary: For ambassadors of Christ to do their job to the best of their ability we need to acknowledge our difference from the world, even while we live within it and through the positives of that difference commend the gospel to those who haven’t yet heard it.
Today we’re going to talk a bit more about what it means to be an ambassador of Christ. In particular we’re going to think about what’s involved in ambassadors of Christ doing their job to the best of their ability. Paul is aware of the urgency of the task, of the need for people to hear about Christ and respond to his offer of forgiveness before it’s too late and so he goes on to talk about what we can do to increase our effectiveness as messengers of the gospel. He begins by saying "We put no obstacle or stumbling block in anyone’s way." Nothing that might come between his hearers and the gospel.
Now it seems to me that this is quite a timely warning for Christians in 2004. Is there any doubt that the revelations of sexual and physical abuse by clergy and now of paedophilia among both clergy and Christian teachers has harmed the cause of the gospel? Our credibility has gone downhill over the past few years. This is a great stumbling block to the gospel.
But it’s not only that sort of misbehaviour that gives Christianity a bad name. What about revelations of big name preachers with a healing ministry who have essentially been shown to be frauds, who have manipulated people into giving them huge amounts of money on the basis of a lie. People see those sorts of stories and immediately question whether real cases of healing fall in the same category of made up stories.
In the same category I think, are those preachers who proclaim a prosperity doctrine; who fill their churches by promising people that if they’ll just have faith they can have anything; who say God wants to make us rich, not just in godliness but in material wealth as well. All you have to do is ask. I think the phrase that’s commonly used in this case is "Name it and claim it."
Then there are those preachers who use all the tricks of rhetoric to sway their audience. They fill their churches by the way they present their message, or by the topics they choose to preach on. They package it in such a way as to attract the right demographic to their services. Earlier this year Michael mentioned some pastors he’d come across who said they’d rather employ a music director than a pastoral worker, because they were more effective at bringing people in. I know that some people were put off by the style of the woman speaking on the DVD last week. Why were they put off? I think because of the way she presented her message. It wasn’t the message itself. It was the way she tried to manipulate the audience to get her point across. The way she shouted at them; the way she strutted across the stage and then turned and pointed at the audience, bending down to their level to make the point even more powerfully. And if you’re like me you might think it’s all just an act. It’s all just designed to manipulate my emotions so I respond. Well I did respond, but probably not the way she meant. I have a fairly low tolerance for manipulative behaviour. (I actually didn’t intend to show that bit last week. I just forgot where I was going to turn it off. But it serves as a good example, I think, of the way we can cause a stumbling block by the way we behave.)
So we need to ask what are we on about as Christians? What is the nature of Christian ministry?
There was an article in The Age on Wednesday about General Synod rejecting the possibility of women bishops and one of the comments was that this was denying women the possibility of being recognised? Well, it seems to me that that isn’t really the issue. As far as Christian ministry is concerned, are we on about personal recognition? Is ordination part of a career path? No. There may be other reasons for allowing women to be bishops but that’s not one of them. Certainly we need to recognise gifts in people before appointing them as bishops. But personal recognition isn’t what it’s about. As we’ll see in a moment, Paul’s experience at Corinth didn’t include personal recognition. In fact the opposite. Yet he kept on because he knew that wasn’t the issue.
The issue is that ministry is about service - we’re servants of God. And nothing can cause the reputation of the master to be tarnished as much as servants who fail to practise the ethics of their master. A minister whose conduct is clearly a contradiction of the transforming power of God in Christ is only going to lead people to malign God and to make a mockery of the gospel.