There is a time for transition. In fact there is a lot of transition in life and in Christian life and ministry in particular. However, it is not completely true to say that ‘all of life is transition’. We function best as humans when we have times when we are settled in one place or at least clear of our direction and what our work is rather than just in constant flux and indecision. The Apostle Paul was always on the move but he did know his task very clearly (Acts 20), and if you read the book of Acts carefully you find that he was often settled somewhere for a few weeks, months or even years. So here is something in praise of non-transition…
We live in a culture where stability, stick-ability and consistency are not really seen as virtues but disabilities. We told that it’s good to be flexible, agile, constantly shifting, morphing, evolving, jumping from one thing to another. Everyone offers us change – politicians, internet providers, management gurus. To stick with one thing, to be the same person yesterday, today and tomorrow is strange, boring, old-fashioned, impractical and probably deadly. Change becomes the new constant, flux and flex the new buzz words.
That culture affects us personally and as churches. And there are some things about willingness to change (reformation?) that are hugely positive. But there are negative aspects to this kind of constant instability. Is it good for customers and companies if employees change jobs every year? Is it good for children if their parent switch their schools as often as their Facebook profile photo? Is it good for pastors to change churches every two years? If I am ‘re-branding myself’ who really am I?
And then we might notice how in business, politics and social networks, my word is no longer my bond, because I’ll almost certainly change my mind or circumstances will change – I’m afraid I won’t be able to do what I originally said I would do. If I say I’ll come to your event that commitment is contingent. It is …unless things change …unless something (better) comes up. This shadow of instability starts to fall over even the most serious promises like marriage vows. The idea of committing to a person or a church or an organisation or a job for any serious length of time sounds strange to the Z generation. Surely better to simply ‘Like’ with the ever-present option of ‘Unliking’. And when I’m actually in church I might find that even here there is a chasing after one gimmick and church growth strategy after another, one conference or best-seller or speaker, blown about by every wind.
I’ve been struck recently by 2 Corinthians 1:12-22. Paul starts by talking about the consistency of his life (v12-17) which moves into him talking about the consistency of his words (v17-19) which moves into him talking about the consistency and sufficiency of Christ Himself and identity in Him (v19-22).
Life (v12-17). Paul is one person all the time – ‘simplicity and godly sincerity’ – he is straightforward. ‘Earthly wisdom’ says “Don’t commit, move with the times, stay flexible and unattached, be a cultural chameleon, have a different face for different people, work people, manipulate.” In contrast the grace of God says, “be consistent, be one thing, be who you are in Christ, a child of God.” Earthly culture is continually changing plans and going back on commitments and promises as better things come up. Paul was accused of that (v17) and he is desperate to clear himself of the charge – “I don’t say Yes, Yes and No, No at the same time – I don’t have my cursor hovering over the “Unlike” or “Edit” icons – I do what I say.” In a culture where we see so much vacillating (and maybe this is a particularly intense problem for those of us in the younger generation) this is a challenge to simplicity, stability and stickability in life.
Words (v17-19). Paul has already started talking about his words in general and now in verse 18 he starts talking about ‘the word (logos) of us’, meaning his message, his preaching. It seems Paul didn’t jump around from one topical series to another following whatever was trending in the culture. As he lived a singular life he had a singular message – ‘the Son of God, Jesus Christ’ (v19). If you went to listen to Paul preaching you could guarantee 100% that you would hear about Jesus Christ. (Can that be said of our preaching ministry?) Why did Paul and his co-workers keep on preaching Christ? Verse 20: “For all the promises of God find their yes in him”. The Bible is not a promise box – it is a book of promises that find their fulfilment in him. Not a whole bunch of disconnected promises but a load of lines all converging on one Person. So Paul, Silas, Timothy, didn’t open the Scriptures and preach promises of overflowing barns and vineyards and success and riches and the good life – they preached the fulfilment of the promises: the Christ who is good, who is the riches, who is life. So there was a stability to their ministry and it’s focus.
Christ (v19-20). I all comes down to the stability of Christ himself. When the mountains and sky have fled away he will be there in all his eternal, unchangeable, dazzling glory. All the promises of God have been fulfilled in him and he has died and risen and will never die. And wonderfully God has ‘established’ (lit. made firm) us ‘in Christ’. Our lives are hidden in the most stable thing in all eternity. Not only that we have been ‘anointed’, ‘sealed’, ‘given the Spirit’ as a ‘guarantee’ – all words expressing the same reality of the Spirit’s closing us into the security of Christ, words of great firmness and comfort about our true identity.
Now if you have an identity like that you don’t have to be constantly vacillating, trying to please everyone, trying to be a cultural chameleon, trying to get an ‘edge’ or ‘leverage’. You have that stability in Christ to be one thing and preach one thing and stick at that.