Posted by George Crowder, 8 Mar 2021
George Crowder wonders what we can learn about ourselves by noticing what we find impressive.
In church life and Christian ministry, we can learn a lot from what impresses us, but not in the way we first think. When the high-visibility campaign catches our eye, or when the multi-faceted resource hub bursts onto the scene, we might try to sow the same seeds and harvest similar fruit. We may hanker after a new engagement strategy, a new energising initiative, but that is not what we need to learn.
What we need to learn from what impresses us is exactly that – what impresses us. We need to step back and look at ourselves and observe what we are impressed by and how it affects us. Too often the secular world sets the agenda for what we deem impressive, and our self-reliance sets the agenda for how we respond.
We are dazzled by cleverness, charm and performance. We are overawed numbers, wealth and influence. We are quickly hooked on a potent cocktail of all these things; our human-centred formula for ‘power’.
Reading through the Apostle Paul’s appeal in 2 Corinthians 10, we find a challenge to this formula. His preferred approach is ‘meekness and gentleness,’ and for that he is ridiculed. Seemingly powerful critics have declared him ‘unimpressive’ and though they accept his letters are weighty, ‘his speaking amounts to nothing.’ And for a Greek audience, that was a fatal blow to his credibility. Paul is also accused of ‘living by the standards of the world,’ which turns out to mean he is not spiritually impressive by the standards of his critics, which, with deep irony, look a lot like the standards of the world.
Paul challenges his critics, but not for his own sake. He makes a stand for the sake of those who could be led astray by these power-hungry pretenders. Neither does he challenge them on his own merits, but on the merits of Christ and his calling as an apostle.
It may seem inconsistent that Paul moves from appealing with the meekness and gentleness of Christ to calling on the power of God in spiritual warfare in verse 4-6. Paul would much prefer to show the gentleness of Jesus in fellowship than divine power in battle, but he takes personal credit for neither. Just as he draws on God’s strength to fight against savage wolves, he draws on the grace of Christ to care for the flock of God. The great shepherd of the sheep indwells, inspires and equips his servant in both meekness and warfare.
Paul does not seek to promote himself or to gain status and privilege. He is not swayed by worldly ways. He does not judge by secular standards. He does not abuse power. He uses the authority given to him by Jesus to help Christians to live for Jesus like he does.
People still try to denounce Paul’s letters, but his authority as an apostle was specifically in his teaching of Christ. He didn’t claim authority in anything else, because Christ called him for that very purpose.
Christian believers need regularly ‘re-impressing’ with word of Christ from the apostles, and indeed the whole Bible, authenticated by them. This same word is the seed of the church and the hope of the world.
Be careful what we put our faith in because we are easily swayed by worldly impressiveness. We want people to believe in Jesus, but we can easily think that the thing that will persuade them is how we measure up by the standards of the world.
In the mission of the church our confidence must remain in the word of the apostles, with all the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
This article was first published in the Church of England Newspaper.
George Crowder is vicar of St John's Over, and Regional Director of Church Society in the north of England.
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