Paul's Outline for Ministry: Framing the Future
In my final post offering a Pauline outline for ministry, I want to orient us towards the glorious future that awaits those in Christ. After thanking them for their past faithfulness manifested in love and directing them toward “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,” Paul spends the bulk of this passage reminding the Ephesians of “the hope to which he has called you” (Eph 1:18 ESV).
Hope is a tricky thing. Paul gives it a place in the blessed triad of “faith, hope, and love.” (1 Cor 13:13). Hope is a double-edged sword. By necessity, the object of our hope is something or someone in the future which allows us to accept present pain or suffering or distress as temporary. The fact that hope is centered on something for which we wait leaves us vulnerable to the already present trials of life. For while hope encourages us to await the return of Christ which is out there somewhere in the intangible future, the present is full of perils that threaten to not only distract us but to derail us from the path upon which Christ would have us to walk.
Much has changed since Paul wrote these words to the Ephesians, and yet human nature and the reality of the Christ-event remain the same. Just as Paul, the Ephesians, and Christians from then until now have had to make a choice, so must we. We must choose the lens through which we will view our future. Will it be the lens the world seeks to force upon us, the lens of fear, or will we allow hope to frame our future by choosing the lens of faith? The allure of the lens of fear should not be underestimated. It possesses a rationalistic curvature. It reflects every possible threat, even magnifying it. The effect being that it puts us in a position where we encounter the world with a degree of suspicion. It keeps us in a permanent state of anxiety, worried about what might happen or what others might do to us. At a time of civil wars, terrorism, and violence, many in our churches are reaching for the lens of fear. Our job as ministers is to make certain that the people to whom we minister are oriented toward Christ, the source of their hope. Our calling is to hold out to them the lens of faith, which frames a future controlled by the one who conquered even death. Our task is to remind our brothers and sisters that to follow Jesus is not to fear what others may do to us, but is to ask how we might be a blessing to others.
We must remember Paul’s message to the Ephesians, for it is really a message to us as well. Paul was worried that the Ephesians might surrender their future hope for present comfort. The world in its current distress continues to offer us a Faustian bargain. It offers us the ability to defeat evil, if only we will embrace the tactics which belong to the “the cosmic powers over this present darkness.” To give in to this temptation would be to betray who we are and deny the power of Christ’s resurrection, the basis of our hope. Paul concludes his prayer for the Ephesians by reminding them that God “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:22-23). The world might wear us down and tire us out, but we shouldn’t allow it to distract us from the glorious future that awaits us. We are to be the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all. We cannot, we must not trade our birthright, the hope that is found in Jesus, for the porridge of temporary security.