Showing posts with label 1 Corinthians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1 Corinthians. Show all posts

01 November 2014

The stamping of the seal

This time I'd like to delve a bit deeper into the seal of Paul's apostolic gift. It's more accurate to say that Paul himself was a gift to the churches he worked amongst. Jesus is the gift-giver here, and he gives people with particular abilities to communities of believers as they have need.

We'll come back later to the idea that people are gifts to the church. For now I'll just make the statement without enlarging on it. But what of the 'seal'? We covered this yesterday, but we can draw more from 1 Corinthians 9:2.


A wax seal
A wax seal
When Paul looks at the Corinthian believers he sees an unmistakeable imprint upon them. They are far from perfect, they have been bickering with one another, living in careless ways that may hurt one another. They are still beginning their spiritual journeys; and they have a lot to learn. If these people are the seal of Paul's apostleship (and he says they are) we might think in terms of the material that a seal would be made of.

It would have to be a material that could be moulded so it could be stamped with a signet ring, and it would need to set hard so that the  pattern would not be lost in transit. Many materials have been used for this purpose. Hot wax can be stamped and sets hard when it cools. Clay can be stamped and sets when it dries. Bitumen was used in Roman times and hardens as it cools; good supplies were available from the Red Sea and elsewhere.

In what way were the believers in Corinth stamped with an image? They were stamped with the image of Christ. Jesus is the one who wears the signet ring. He is the one who marks us as authentic followers and as authentic communities, the ekklesia, the church. He stamps us by pouring his Spirit over us and into us and through us, and we become a little more like him.

Paul could see this growing evidence of their Christlikeness, and it was proof that he had laid the right foundation. It was, therefore, a seal of his apostleship. He had, we might say, 'apostled' well in Corinth and he continues this work in his letter.

Whose stamp do we see among those we have taught and counselled? Do we see our own stamp? Or do we see Jesus' stamp? It had better be the King's stamp, the stamp of King Jesus. If not, we have built in vain and our work will be destroyed in the fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

31 October 2014

The seal of apostleship

'Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.' - (Paul, writing from Ephesus to the church in Corinth about 20 to 25 years after the death of Jesus, 1 Corinthians 9:2)

What does Paul have in mind here? What does he mean by a 'seal' of his apostleship? First of all, what does he mean by his 'apostleship'?


Apostleship - An apostle is a gift to the body of Christ; people with an apostolic gift lay foundations, start things off, and keep them on track. Paul is one of the best examples we have. He didn't stay more than a few years in each place, often far less and sometimes only a few days. But in that time he worked to establish something that would prosper after he was gone. Christ is the foundation, and it's Christ that Paul always wanted to establish in the hearts and minds of the believers. Often, he came back later to check on what had been constructed on that foundation. And when he couldn't go in person, he sent others or wrote letters.

Seal - A seal is a mark of authenticity. An important document was sealed with wax pressed into a pattern with the sender's signet ring. It could only be opened by breaking the seal which was therefore a guarantee of both authorship and freedom from tampering. If a document was still sealed it could not have been altered or replaced by a third party.

The Corinthian believers - So when Paul writes that the Corinthian believers are the 'seal' of his apostleship, he means that they are the proof that the work he did among them is the genuine deal and has not been interfered with. How so?

Paul tells them plainly that he doesn't want anything from them, he was pleased to do his work free of charge and without support. He has various issues to raise with them, but he begins his letter with encouragement (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). And it's these gifts and qualities amongst the Corinthians that prove that Paul laid the foundations well. The seal of his apostleship is that he can see in them the grace of Christ, that they have been enriched in their words and their knowledge, they have every spiritual gift, that they are eager and are in fellowship with the Son.

Of course, he finds much to criticise too, but the fundamentals are there, the basis is right even if the acting out has been a bit misguided. And that is why he wrote this letter, to get them back on track. That, too, is part of being apostolic.

And today? - We so badly need to see the apostolic gift active in the church in our own day. We need to see foundation-layers active, rescuing people from the clutches of consumerism, addiction, lack of purpose, despair and confusion. We need to see them placing people on the one foundation who is Jesus, and encouraging them and guiding them to live kingdom lives together. We need to see them gathering the new believers into Jesus-following communities, and challenging them to go out and share the good news that Jesus lives!

And we need to see them walk away to repeat the same work in other places, allowing each new church to explore for themselves the richness that is theirs in Christ, in prayer, reaching the lost, encouraging one another in using every available gift, including the apostolic gift so that the process repeats itself and becomes like seed growing and spreading, growing and spreading to the ends of the earth.

And we need to see them checking back in person, by sending messengers, writing letters (or using today's communication systems) to keep the growing nodes on track, healthy and well networked.

And so it will be again as it was in the beginning. This is no pipedream. It is necessary and it depends on Jesus pouring his Holy Spirit into his people, and on us responding to his bidding.

The time is now! So go and make disciples of all nations.

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