Frontline Commissioning Service
Sunday 19 May 2019
Bible text: 1 Corinthians 7:17
We spend most of our time in different situations away from church. These situations are assigned to us by God and we can worship Him by having a vision for how we can be of use to Him in that situation.
We’ve been thinking already about how we spend our time on our ‘frontline,’ the place away from church where we spend most of our time.
Time is a precious commodity. In fact, in 21st Century Western Culture perhaps it is the most precious. A quick Google returns numerous stories from our UK newspapers with titles like ‘Time not money is our most valuable commodity’. Relative to many people in the world we live in relative prosperity and yet we never seem to have enough time.
James 4 v14 says ‘we are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’
In many work places the topic of Work / Life Balance is one that is continually raised. How do we juggle the competing demands on our time or work and the rest of life?
In the church that work / life balance challenge sometimes feels as if it becomes a Work / Family / Church balance. These things feel like competing demands on our time.
We all have choices in how we spend some of our time but that is not the part of time we are concentrating on today. This pie-chart illustrates a survey of ‘daily time spent’ by the US labour office.
‘Work’ is around 20% of our time. It’s that chunk of time that we might summarise as 9 to 5 on Monday to Friday. Although of course for many it might be 8 to 6 or 7 to 4 or a night shift or full time family care. Most of our time is spent in some activity that is the result of our specific situation. It might be in paid employment, it might be in looking after family, it might be in serving others in charity or through the church here, it might be in studying at university or school. These are the things we spend the largest part of our time doing. Some of these are situations we have chosen but some are not how we might choose to spend our time.
And so sometimes we might see it as time that just needs to get through a bit like this.
Perhaps we also wonder in our hearts if time is so precious are we spending it in the most useful way. This is a good question to ask and our verse this morning has something to say about this.
Unpacking the verse
Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
Our verse this morning is verse 17
“Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer, in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches”.
What do we learn from this verse? We are going to see 3 things:
1. We have been assigned our situations
We are in situations the Lord has assigned to us. Situations God has called us to. This is a really remarkable phrase. It must be important because Paul conveys it in two different ways. He doesn’t want us to miss this. God has assigned the situation to us, and he has called us to it. He says it two different ways to underline it. The language here is striking. He uses the word ‘assign’ and the word ‘call’. These are words that have deep spiritual meaning.
Let’s start with that second word ‘call’. It is the same verb in the Greek (kaleo) that is used to speak of a believer’s call to salvation, see Romans 8:30, 1 Peter 2:9. We are rightly wowed by God’s gracious calling of us to salvation. That he would take the time to call us sinners to know him. But in the same way he has also called us to our situation.
And then again there is the word ‘assigned’. This is the same word that is used to describe how we are ‘assigned’ spiritual gifts by God. God has assigned us and entrusted us with gifts and skills to use for him. And he has also assigned us and entrusted us to situations in which we can use those gifts and skills.
These are words dripping with spiritual and theological connotations and Paul uses this in connection with a believer’s everyday situations.
Paul could have said “you are in your situations, live as believers”. But he doesn’t, he specifically makes this point twice. In this passage in v20 Paul goes on to make the point that just because someone becomes a Christian they are not then required to change their situation. That is not that we cannot. That single people cannot marry, that someone out of work cannot get a job, that someone in a job cannot get a new one. In fact Paul makes the point in v21 that a slave should take the opportunity to become free if they can - but rather that this is not required. We might think that this is because our situation is not sinful in and of itself but these verses go beyond this to say they have been actively given to us by God.
God has plans for His world and He needs all kinds of people to live and work in all kinds of situations to achieve these.
We often talk about some people having a vocation, this comes from the Latin for calling. The word itself comes from the concept in this verse. But often a vocation is thought of as something special, very particular roles, perhaps Christian ministry, perhaps a professional career. But here God says we have been called to any of our situations.
Martin Luther put it like this: “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milkmaids”.
This is truly amazing. Our situation might be difficult or easy but it has been assigned to us. In the same way we are grateful for our salvation we should trust God that He wants the best for us and be grateful therefore that He has allocated us something of meaning for us.
Each of us is unique and it should stop us looking at our own or others circumstances too highly or too lowly. We too often grade jobs or situations in our heads. In the world of work this might be by the value the world places on them through pay, or it might be that we think of certain careers or professions as more worthy. As Christians the temptation is to assign more value to those in Christian ministry or to those perhaps in the caring professions. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has assigned all of our roles. He values all of us and not because of our situation. He loves us out of his grace. This means we should be content in our own situation but humble too. Neither condescending nor envious. Whether we are a part-time Saturday worker or the big boss. Whether we are caring for a large family or living alone. We are of value to God. And what we do is of value to him too.
One of the values of a church like Hook is that we can experience fellowship when we can help and support and share God’s word with one another. But as we do so we should be careful of assuming that when we help or advise one another we impose our situation or our thinking regarding a particular frontline. It may be we can do certain things because of our situation that others can’t and vice versa. We are not called to be the same so as we fellowship we should try to understand other’s situations that we can love and serve and pray for one another better.
God has called and assigned us to our particular situation.
2. Our frontline is valuable time
In the wider passage we see what these situations are that Paul is talking about:
- In the first 16 verses of 1 Corinthians 7 Paul talks about marital status and situations. In short - relationships
- In verses 18 & 19 - Paul talks about Circumcision and Uncircumcision. In this context he is talking about our religious and cultural background.
- In verses 21-23 he talks about slaves and free men. In this context he is talking about both work and access to rights.
So these situations we are assigned and called to are wide ranging but for our Frontline Commissioning Service today I believe that what we call our frontline includes all these different situations. Our frontline is often a function of work, access to rights, family status and relationships. So the place God has put us and where we spend so much of our time. He has assigned to us. He has called us to. We are not there by accident.
In fact our frontline has value in and of itself. When our work is hard or dull, when our situation is difficult, we can often risk thinking about the hours we spend at work or home in the week as hours to endure before we can do something we perceive as of more interest or more value. But this is not the way to think of it. God has asked us to do useful things. To work - whether paid or not. He wants us to not just survive on our frontlines but to thrive.
We see this way back in Genesis in the Garden of Eden. Before the fall whilst Adam and Eve could have been just worshipping God directly 24/7 did they? No we find them commanded by God to do work. In Genesis 1:28 - he gives Adam what is often known as the cultural mandate. Also to grow food (Gen 1) and to name animals (Gen 2) to name but two tasks. In a perfect world God wanted humans to be productive. To be creative as he is the great creator. So this is not wasted time. This is time as God intended it to be used.
We then see this again in the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). In the fourth commandment we see the command to keep a day special apart from the work. But note the assumption. The other half of the commandment is that there are 6 days on which we should work. We are to be useful. It is God’s design and God’s command that we are useful. Whether that is in the home, or at college, or at the shop, or in the workshop or airport or office or wherever we are. This is part of God’s plan for our time. It is not something to do the minimum to get through. It is something he wants us to do. Our time on our frontline is not wasted. God did not say, take as much time as possible as a Sabbath and avoid being useful. He said work, be useful for six days and then keep the Sabbath holy. He did not say the Sabbath was the only day that counted. He did say it was special, holy, set apart. He did say that there is a rhythm to life that he has ordained and we sin when we ignore this and refuse to take time out. However, the other six days have value too.
This model is the model that was set in Genesis 1. In the creation account God works for six days and then rests. He worked for six days creating and looked at what he did and took satisfaction in it. He looked saw that what he made was good.
When you serve a customer with what they wanted do you think ‘that is good’? When you have cleaned the toilet - do you look at it and think ‘that is good’. When you write a report or essay - do you look at it and say ’that is good’. When you write a new piece of computer code do you say ‘that is good’. When you have finally got the baby to sleep do we say ‘that is good?’. We should.
Our time on the frontline is valuable time.
3. We live ‘as a believer’ in our situation
We are not called to leave our situation but instead Paul says we are to be a believer in it. What does it mean? Well logically living as a believer means not living as an unbeliever. We are to be distinctive because of our belief.
As a believer we want to follow what God wants of us. Of course there are certain behaviours that we would avoid because God does not like them. We know from God’s word that he wants us to, not gossip, not steal, not have unhealthy relationships, not cheat, not lie, etc, etc. But living as a believer in our situation means a lot more than this.
Our belief tells us something more about what God wants us to be:
a) We can be creative.
Our heavenly father is the creator God and he has blessed us to be made in his image. He has made us creative beings. In many ways our level of creativity is something that sets us apart from the rest of his creation. So there are obvious ways we can be creative. Perhaps in art, in writing. Clearly, from Genesis, gardening and farming. But also creating new things. Building, producing things, writing computer code, knitting, bringing new things into being. We can do this in paid employment, we can do this if we are retired, we can do this at home. We are following in his footsteps and delivering on his cultural mandate to Adam.
b) We can restore His creation.
We know that our world is not the way it should be because of what then happened when Adam sinned. The world became broken. Creation was not as it should be. Work became hard. So we can as Christians help repair what is broken. We do this in jobs like nursing, caring for the sick, in charity work, showing love to those who need it. We see it in police protecting people from sin, and administering justice. We see this in lawyers. But we also see this in all of the way we interact with people. Trying to reconcile and repair broken situations and relationships. The person you speak to next door who seems to have family issues. Our co-workers who just don’t get on. But perhaps not just next door but in our own houses and families too. Are we the peacemakers? Are we those who seek for reconciliation? For fairness and equality? For justice but also for love and for grace?
Both as those who do creative or restorative work it is not just about us doing this but also encouraging others around us to do this too. If we have a position of influence, as a manager, we can take the opportunity to change the culture of our frontline. To create environments that help others to flourish.
c) Speak out the truth of the gospel.
We don’t just have actions that can help create and repair but we know and can speak up for God. His gospel is good news. It speaks to those who need hope. We are called on to give an answer for the reason for our faith. When this happens lets take those opportunities to point others to God. Perhaps we don’t have chances to share the details of what we believe, of the gospel, but perhaps as we care for others we can offer to pray for them. As we create things we can point to the glory of what God has made. As we heal broken situations we can highlight the need for something more. We talk about glorifying God and his name on our frontlines. And yes, we can do that in our attitude of heart and mind personally but are there sometimes ways in which we can make that glorification of his name public? When we have prayed for a situation on our frontline, perhaps a difficult situation that has arisen and God answers our prayer in a wonderful way. And someone says isn’t it amazing what happened do we point to the fact that it was an answer to prayer? Do we give glory to God when others thank and praise us, do we say that it is God who has given us the skills to do it?
So how are we going to do this? How are we going to be able to have the right attitude to our frontline and to live out what God would have us do?
Well fundamentally as always as a Christian it means following our leader, Jesus Christ. Taking our vision from Him.
Jesus himself was someone who worked. He followed in Joseph’s footsteps as a carpenter. He worked in the workshop for many years and he certainly never gave any impression this was wasted time. It was part of the big plan. So Jesus knows what it is like to be useful.
He is the Servant King. He is the leader of the entirety of humanity. He holds the world in his hands. Yet he served others. He knows what it is to be a leader and a servant.
He showed love, grace and forgiveness to others. Most notably in forgiving us for our many sins. Amongst these are the times we have wasted our talents or our time. Where we have not had the right attitude to what he would have us do he will forgive us. He is gracious. He looks at us and loves us. Let’s also show love and grace to others on our frontline.
His spirit is with us. We do not have to do all of this in our own strength. As his disciples he gives us his spirit. It lives within us. It is there to strengthen us and give us wisdom. Let us rely more on him and his spirit and less on ourselves.
His gospel makes all the difference in the world. It changes everything. Everything that the world is looking for can be answered through his gospel. Let us have confidence in that. Offer it when we can but know that His gospel is that in dying and rising again He has conquered sin and death. We want others to know this but also… One day he will restore all things and make them new. When our situations our tough. When we cannot restore things to the way God would want them we know that one day he will make everything new. Work will be redeemed as well as us.
So we live as believers in the situations the Lord has assigned to us, as God has called us. With a vision of Jesus and how He would have us usefully use the situations for creation, restoration and His glory.
This week , don’t see your time on your frontline as time to be got through.
See it as a situation God has assigned to you.
Look to Jesus for the strength and the vision
to serve Him where He has put us.