Rule #1: Don’t get caught.
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On October 27, 1993, a devastating wildfire ripped through Laguna Beach, California, destroying 366 homes and burning 17,000 acres. In one hillside neighborhood, all the houses burned to the ground, except for the home of To Bui and Doris Bender. I remember reading the Los Angeles Times in the days after the fire and seeing a picture of their home, which the Times dubbed a “miracle house.”
There was nothing miraculous about the house’s survival. Bui was a contractor. When he built the house, he built it with safety in mind. “I built my house to last,” he said. “Whatever the minimum codes called for, I went a little further.” And that little further spared his house.
Whenever I read 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, I think of Bui and his house. Paul writes:
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
Throughout Christian history, this verse has meant different things to different people. Catholics see a hint of purgatory in these verses. Protestants argue about the relationship between grace and works in the life of the believer. American evangelicals see a concern for personal purity here.
Paul is not talking about any of these things, however. He’s talking about the leadership of Christian community. Remember the overall context of 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21. The Corinthians were divided among themselves because they evaluated Christian leaders differently. And they evaluated Christian leaders differently because they were enamored of worldly wisdom and rhetorical skill. According to Paul, all that really mattered was “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” for he was the “wisdom” and “power” of God. In that context, Paul is telling Christian leaders at Corinth and in all places at all times that they should stay focused on Jesus Christ.
Why? Because just as the 1993 Laguna Beach fire proved the soundness of To Bui’s house construction, so the Day of Judgment will prove or disprove the soundness of Christian leaders’ ministries. Sound ministries will be rewarded; unsound ministries will be destroyed, even though the leader will be saved.
I am a pastor, so these words apply directly to me. In my teaching and writing ministry, do I keep your focus on Jesus Christ? Do I bring you to Jesus Christ for salvation? Do I help you grow in Christlikeness? Do I show you how all the Bible is centered on Jesus Christ? Or do I preach my personal politics or economic eccentricities or psychological preferences? Do you?
There’s a place for politics, economics, and psychology, of course. But only if we see Jesus first, last, and in between.
Over at The Hardy Group, Dick Hardy posts an excellent article on “8 reasons why you need to have regular corporate prayer.” Check it out!
You might also want to check out Dick’s new book, 27 Tough Questions Pastors Ask.
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My wife and I recently purchased our first home. During escrow, an inspector crawled under the house, looked through every nook and cranny, and climbed into the attic to see if the house had any problems that needed to be fixed. There were very few, but one caught my attention: there was a crack in the foundation.
In Missouri, houses are built on raised foundations rather than slabs, so it’s pretty easy to spot a crack. I asked the inspector whether the crack was something to worry about. “No,” he said, “although you need to hire a contractor to fill it with resin so it doesn’t grow. If it grows, it will become a problem.” And that’s precisely what we did.
We don’t often consider the foundations of our houses because we almost never see them. But Paul was like the inspector who looked at my house. It was his job to determine the safety of the Corinthians’ spiritual house, so he paid attention to everything, especially its foundation.
But Paul was more than a safety inspector. He was a conscientious builder. He paid attention to the foundation of the Corinthians’ faith because he had laid it. Consider what he writes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
In theology, the word grace usually refers to “God’s unmerited favor.” I like the acronym for grace that describes it as “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” In these verses, grace doesn’t refer to salvation, however; it refers to spiritual gifting. In Greek, the word for grace is charis and the word for gift is charisma. Salvation and spiritual gifting are related. If God saves you, he spiritually gifts you to influence others. Paul’s specific grace was evangelizing Gentiles, such as the Corinthians.
But Paul knew that apart from Jesus Christ, God has no good news for us. In Romans 6:23 he writes: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have a choice to make: death or life. Bad news or good news. Life is a gracious gift of God, but it only comes “through Jesus Christ.”
To switch back to Paul’s building metaphor, Jesus Christ is the foundation on which God builds his spiritual house in us. If salvation comes through Jesus Christ, then no one can point to another way. No one can lay another foundation.
Paul wasn’t the only spiritual gifted person. God has gifted you and me too. We too are spiritual builders, though not necessarily in the same way as Paul. Therefore, we too must pay attention to the spiritual foundation.
Do we use our influence to bring people to Jesus Christ and to help them become more Christlike?
This past Thursday, in his monthly online Q&A, my father fielded questions from Assemblies of God ministers about Easter apologetics, dealing publicly with criticism from parishioners, and the controversy over Tony Jones’ recent address to the Society for Pentecostal Studies, among other topics.
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Christians have a tendency to put their leaders on pedestals and then bemoan the fact that they have feet of clay. We see this tendency at work in Corinth, where many Christians idolized Apollos but scrutinized Paul. In Apollos, they saw only fine points; in Paul, only flaws.
In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul corrected the Corinthian tendency by portraying both Apollos and himself in the proper perspective.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul’s perspective consisted of three crucial insights about Christian leadership.
First, leaders are servants. In Greek, the word Paul uses is diakonoi, from which we get the English word deacons. It probably derived from the obsolete verb diako, meaning to run an errand, and was used for waiters (cf. Acts 6:2). I don’t know about you, but I have never put a waiter on a pedestal. The waiter is there to serve me food. If he does a good job, he has only done his duty (cf. Luke 17:7-10). As a pastor, Paul’s description of Christian leaders as waiters is a humbling one. Do I really serve others? But as a parishioner, it’s also a helpful one. Is my evaluation of Christian leaders a projection of my own need for importance? Christian leaders are servants—no more, no less.
Second, different leaders do different things. After describing Christian leaders as servants or waiters, Paul switches metaphors. Now Christian leaders are farmers. Farmers perform a variety of tasks. They till ground, plant seed, fertilize soil, and reap a harvest. In the Corinthian church’s experience, “[Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it.” In other words, Paul evangelized and Apollos discipled. Just as farmers must both plant and water, so Christian leaders must both evangelize and disciple. The Corinthians wanted either/or. They needed both/and. Growing, healthy churches unite for service by dividing the labor.
Third, God gets all the credit. The fundamental problem at Corinth was a desire to get credit rather than give it. The Corinthians wanted to be important, so they inflated their favorite leader’s importance. For Paul, the only Person of real importance was God. Sure, Paul and Apollos did their part, but “God….makes things grow.” Notice how Paul describes himself, Apollos, and the Corinthians: “we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” We are God’s. He gets the credit.
These insights are crucial for both Christian leaders and followers. Imagine what we could do if we served others, worked together, and kept our focus on God.
One of the most tired clichés in American political discourse is that Republicans are shills for Big Business while Democrats are tireless advocates for the Average Person. The healthcare legislation President Obama recently signed into law proves the falsity of that cliché, for the legislation is a federal mandate requiring the Average Person to buy health insurance from – ahem – Big Insurance, one of the larger subsets of Big Business. In other words, Democrats have just done what they and others routinely accuse the Republicans of doing.
The cliché about Republicans is false, then, not because Republicans don’t lobby for Big Business but because Democrats do it too, albeit for the benefit of different businesses. In other words, there is Bushonomics, and now there is Obamanomics. Neither is good for the Average Guy. Both are inherently corrupting of our nation’s politics.
Timothy P. Carney is lobbying editor and columnist for the Washington Examiner, as well as a protégé of the late paleoconservative journalist Robert Novak. He is a political independent with a long libertarian streak and an axe to grind against crony capitalists everywhere. Obamanomics is a muckraking expose of crony capitalism in the Obama administration, written before the president signed the health care legislation into law. One wonders whether a revised edition is in the works. He is rightly critical of Obama, although fair being fair, he points out that many of Obama’s policies are merely continuations of and expansions upon Bush’s policies. TARP anyone?
For me, what is most valuable about the book is not the specific examples of Obamanomics Carney reports on but the strategy and outcomes of crony capitalism in general. These can be applied uniformly to both Bush and Obama administrations, although since Obama is the current president, he’s also the current target of critique.
Carney writes: “Obamanomics is the political strategy of partnering government with the biggest businesses in order to create new regulations, taxes, and subsidies.” He goes on: “The economic law underlying Obamanomics – opaque to most journalists and contrary to conventional wisdom – is this: increased government control centralizes industries and favors the biggest businesses.” Underlying Obamanomics are “Four Laws”:
Alongside these laws are ancillary tactics, such as Making an Offer You Can’t Refuse, “when government requires customers to buy certain products,” and Subsidy Sucking, in which government taxes some to subsidize others.
In the current partisan atmosphere, I’m sure many Republicans will cheer Carney merely because he’s against Obama’s policies, while many Democrats will be against him for the same reason. That’s too bad. Carney’s book, aimed squarely at Obama’s crony capitalism, is a primer in how government favors some businesses over their competitors, at the expense of ordinary citizens. The principles underlying Carney’s critique could be applied with equal force to many of Bush’s policies.
In other words, crony capitalism is bipartisan, even if Obama is currently its regnant practitioner.
P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.