Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Making Do

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

So a friend and I are out for lunch, and as usual we’re discussing the church. A recurring theme: the New Testament ideal vs. street-level reality. A plethora of genuine difficulties may arise when we seek to apply what was done in the first century in our modern church settings.

An example: shepherds and teachers. You need to have them or the flock simply doesn’t get guarded, guided, fed or cared for the way it should. But in smaller local gatherings, sometimes you just … don’t. For one reason or another, right now they’re not there.

That’s one kind of weakness. Definitely a problem.

Head for the Hills?

Well, what do you do? I suppose you could tell everybody you’re giving up and heading for the denominations. At least they have some kind of organization going on. You might not like the way they structure their leadership, but it has the advantage of actually existing. You might not agree with all their teaching, but there’s a fair chance they actually have some.

My guess is that few of your current congregants will go for that. Maybe the nearest passable church is ten miles too far down the road, or some of you are older and live in a rural community with no car and no transit. It happens. Maybe a significant number are committed to gathering with fellow believers close to where they live. From a witnessing perspective, the closer the better; it’s awfully hard to invite a neighbor to come to church with you when church is a forty minute drive away. Maybe there’s a strong sentimental attachment to your current location or, even better, a strong emotional connection between the other families where you worship. Who wants to give that up to sit at the back of some big new church where you may or may not be really welcomed, let alone useful?

Looks like you’re going forward without a lot in the way of leadership or visible teaching gift. Weakness.

Perfect in Weakness

Paul says the power of Christ is made perfect in weakness. It’s true at the individual level, and it’s surely true of local congregations. Just think of the letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia: “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Corporately, Philadelphia had the same sort of problem Paul experienced personally. The church was committed but weak.

In Greek, the word “perfect” is teleioō, meaning “brought to a conclusion” or “consummated”. Jesus spoke of having finished [teleioō] the work his Father gave him to do. Likewise, it is said of the Lord Jesus (who, we will absolutely affirm, was already gloriously “perfect” in the moral sense) that he was “made perfect” [teleioō] through sufferings.

Thus when we read that the Lord’s power is “made perfect” in weakness, we might try to think of it as something like “put fully and completely on display”. Where human effort, energy, intellect, training, wisdom and experience fall short of getting the job done, that’s when the glory of God is able to shine through most brightly.

The Horror, the Horror …

Fumbling through my old Bible notes, I look back with something approaching horror at some of the things I said from the platform or in Bible studies as a young man. My theology was seriously weak. Well intended, absolutely. But I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was doing. I was, however, praying a lot. And oddly, the Lord worked through many of those messages powerfully, not least because we always had an open floor for questions, and many things got clarified toward the end of a session that hadn’t necessarily been expressed that well at the outset.

Thing is, they DID get clarified. The Lord overruled my inexperience. As I am able to assess it today, to the extent anything good got done in those early years, it was because the Lord stepped in. His power was on display — not my wisdom or expertise, that’s for sure. It’s amazing the work Jesus Christ can do with imperfect tools provided they are dependent rather than proud and self-sufficient. Paul goes on to say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

That’s dependence, folks.

It would be nice if churches never had to make do with the gift we’ve got rather than the gift we’d like. But we need to remind ourselves that the Head of the Church is never merely “making do”.

He’s making perfect.

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