11 Trinity 2011 (Labor Day)

A Work Ethic of an Apostle

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
September 4, 2011
Verses 9-11 of I Corinthians 15:1-11

Labor Day weekend is different this year than what it was for a lot of folks last year. Last year there was that week-end vacation away, or that large family gathering, or the day spent on the green, or at the beach or possibly fishing a mountain steam, relaxing from work.

This week-end labor is on the minds of many because so many of them are currently without a job. Hence there are no available funds to take that vacation, or host that family get together, to spend in relaxation on the green or at the beach or anywhere but home. Instead bare basics are on the mind of many, and that is whether they still have a home

Whereas in the past, some had the luxury of quitting a job to take on one that was more interesting, more challenging, more lucrative, more accessible, offered more benefits, many now will do just about anything to find a job, and to have or keep a job.

Considerations that previously were primary have become much less important: Those being the utilizing of one’s talents to the utmost, more interesting and engaging work, good pay with guaranteed increases, the prospect of promotion, a health and retirement plan and other perks, a location nearer home, a more suitable work environment, JOB SECURITY! Many of the unemployed now find they are overqualified for work. Skilled as they are (but perhaps lacking in particular skills they need) they are not employable in today’s down-sized market.

If they be people who believe in the power of prayer; need of a job heads their list of petitions. How about this for a guide and qualifier in finding work: ‘Help me to find work, Lord, and let it be what YOU want for me to do; let me find employment in the area that is consistent with YOUR will, not solely mine.’ Then checking the want ads and pounding the pavement yes, but in pursuit of what it is God has in mind for us; what God wants for us and from us; not in pursuit of what we want for ourselves.

One might find that as we are seeking first to do HIS will not ours, employment will come, perhaps even sooner than one might have hoped or expected. “Seek ye first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and ALL these things shall be added unto you,” said Jesus.

Resumes are important tools in seeking to be hired, for they are one’s credentials and record. But sometimes a past record may prohibit one from acceptance into a firm. Or, if hired, one must prove oneself time and time again. And there are always lurking those who would seek to disrupt your performance either because they are jealous or want your position, and they will not let you forget your past mistakes.

St. Paul had that very problem, not only with the Church in Corinth, but elsewhere as well. His resume was not good! For he had persecuted the very association he just recently joined – the Church. He had even obtained orders from the authorities to close it down and put an end to it, to jail and arrest its bosses and the workers (so to speak). And because he in fact hated it and everything it stood for. He set out to destroy it and anyone who had anything to do with it – until he met the Big Boss! Not in some plush office somewhere; but on the open road, the one leading to Damascus!

But Paul’s past reputation preceded him to Jerusalem. When he was introduced to the Apostles by Barnabas many an eye was upon him. ‘Is not this he who recently persecuted the Church and dragged many back to Jerusalem in chains for trial and punishment?’

Barnabas first confirmed their notion of Paul’s past; but then went on the tell them of what had happened to Paul of recent. He had seen a vision of the Lord, had been temporally blinded, had gone without food for several days, had been visited by Ananias a disciple in Damascus, had his sight restored, and had accepted Jesus Christ and was baptized.

And further he told how Paul had been preaching to the Jews, in the synagogues, that Jesus is the Christ of God, and that there is salvation in none other name! Barnabas was asserting and testifying to them, ‘He is now one of us!’ Some remained unconvinced, others were skeptical. How are we to trust that he has changed, perhaps he is only here to spy on us, and to garner further information that he can use against us? Paul would have to prove himself one of them!

Without, there were many among the Jews who also opposed him, because he had ‘gone over to the other’ side’. And he was reported as teaching things contrary to the Law; even inviting Jews to break the Law. In their mind he is a heretic from true Judaism. Hence their hatred of him. They even conspired twice to put an end to him!

And within the Church, there were the Jewish converts to Christianity who believed that these Gentiles coming into the Church should be made to accept all of the rites and ceremonies, rules and regulations of Judaism. The Gentiles must first become Jews before permitted to become Christians! Paul had to contend with all such opposition.

So from without and from within Paul had to remain on the defensive. And we see an example of this in this morning’s excerpt from his First Epistle to the Christians of Corinth. For doubts and aspersions were now being cast by them on his status as an apostle by some of his malicious critics in Corinth, while continuing to taunt him about the previous persecutions. At best they said of him that he was an apostle ‘second hand’: he had not been numbered among the original chosen Twelve! Nor (unlike Matthias) had he been chosen of them!

The amazing thing is that Paul AGREES with his critics! He says, “I am the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an apostle,’ giving as his reason, ‘because I persecuted the Church of God.’

But then he points away from himself to the Glory and Grace of God. ‘But by the Grace of God I am what I am.’ When Moses asked God how the Hebrews would know that he had spoken with God and was appointed by God, God said to him, ‘I AM who I AM.’ With no intended play on words, Paul attests that his commission (as was Moses’) is from God, through Jesus Christ, proclaiming ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am!’ he says.

He then goes on to tell them how God’s Grace was not in vain! “I labored more abundantly than they all” (said in reference to the original Eleven plus the replacement Matthias). Wow! That is quite a statement! Was this sheer arrogance? Was it Paul boasting? No; because he was attesting to an irrefutable fact! So on this Labor Day weekend, our assignment will be to trace his labors; indeed to see whether he labored more abundantly than they all!

First of all he travelled more than any of the others. He made three extensive Missionary Journeys throughout the middle-Eastern world. Beginning the first at Antioch and returning there at end, having made eight stops along the way, including having met with the Gentiles.

His 2nd Missionary Journey began and ended in Syria, making twelve stops within that journey, which included his first visit to Corinth.

His 3rd began in Galatia and took him eventually back to Jerusalem, having made twenty stops along the way.

His 4th and final journey was not designed to be a mission, but rather to transport him to Rome for he had appealed on his own behalf to stand before Caesar. But typical of Paul he made six stops along the way. When I say he made ‘stops’ along the way, these ‘stops’ some-times lasted anywhere from a few days to a full season. For Paul, all of these were missionary opportunities to evangelize!

Indeed he labored more than they all: He established seven churches, including co-founding the church at Rome with Peter, and strengthened others within the course of each journey.

And he wrote more Epistles than any of the rest: thirteen letters in all: many of them lengthy. He was prolific, and even informs Timothy to bring more parchments when he comes.

Need we add that he suffered more than any of the others! Endured beatings with rods, stoning, was in danger from rivers, robbers, Gentiles, false brethren and his own people, in the city, the wilderness, and at sea (where he was shipwrecked and adrift), suffered hunger and thirst, exposure – and of course he had the responsibility for maintaining contact and oversight over those many congregations.

When he says he labored more than they all; this was no exaggeration in the least. For he did! Yet he says, it was not I, but the Grace of God which was within me. Furthermore, he was not in it for the credit; but gives all of the credit to God! And most important of all, he says to his critics among the Church in Corinth, whether it were I or they (the Apostles) who preached to you; the end result was YOU BELIEVED!

What a ‘work ethic’! And what does that ‘work ethic’ say to us? What is the prime motive behind the labor of many? To find a job one will enjoy doing, to get ahead in the business world, to gain recognition, to make a bundle, to have Job Security? Or is the prime motive akin to that of St. Paul’s: To do what God has called us to do (whatever our profession or calling be). To do it all to HIS GLORY, not our own.

One might say, but I am retired now. I don’t have to labor any longer. St. Paul would not understand that kind of logic. Not with all of the work out there still to be done. Jesus said, “The harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.” God’ work requires of one a godly work ethic; one that is performed for God, with God’s help.

One may be retired from one’s work; but one is never retired from serving God’s purpose! We are not St. Paul. We are not one of the Apostles. But we are one of the millions, upon millions and millions of Jesus’ laborers. He is counting on us to assist with the harvest!