Thursday, December 18, 2008

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If Paul Had a Supervisor

Editor's note: The Jailbreaker is the Jailer's newest contributing author. As a missionary to Japan, I think you'll find his perspective quite refreshing, as he challenges some of our cultural assumptions. Welcome aboard Jailbreaker!

Several years ago, some colleagues and I did an extensive study of 1 Corinthians together. The vast majority of us were ministering in the “hard rocky soils” of Asia so we made it a point to meet each year in Malaysia to talk about the issues facing us on the field. Our intent was to go back to the Scriptures together with fresh eyes in order to gain insight, answers, and perspective on the issues we were facing as “practitioners” of the Gospel.

One of the things that stood out to me as I was preparing for our interaction that year was the thought, “If Paul had a Supervisor.” Not sure why that was on my mind, but I imagined Paul getting a visit on the field from his American supervisor and, after a little small talk, being asked the dreaded question: “How’s it going in Corinth?”

I imagined Paul, with the sharp, quick mind that he had, answering without hesitation that he "laid the foundation as an expert builder." However, knowing that most American supervisors are skeptical by nature and would find that answer a bit too vague, it was not hard to imagine the supervisor probing further in order to find out what was really going on in Corinth. As he pressed for more details, I can see Paul taking a deep breath and saying, “Well, to be honest, there are factions in Corinth. Some say they belong to Apollos, some say to Peter...

Not wanting to discourage Paul, the supervisor smiles, places his hand on Paul’s shoulder and gently urges him not to let it bother him, calmly assuring him that the factions will disappear over time if Paul stays on top of the issue. “But tell me, Paul, what else is going on in Corinth?”

“Well, to be honest, there are lawsuits between the believers...” comes the reply. Looking for a reaction, Paul notices a raised eyebrow on his supervisor’s face, but after telling him about all that he’s doing to deal with the issue, his supervisor quickly regains his composure and a warm, reassuring smile flashes across his face. "Is there anything else I should know?"

Though at this point I can’t quite imagine Paul gazing down at his feet like a sheepish schoolboy, Paul nonetheless dumps the truck and begins to tell all, revealing every bit of carnal behavior going on amongst the Corinthian believers. Slowly but surely the tension on his supervisor’s face grows as he listens to Paul outline issues of idolatry, immorality, indulgence, abuse of spiritual gifts, disrespect for leadership, selfishness, bad theology, and a whole host of other issues.

By this time the supervisor is not only in shock, he’s having some real doubts about Paul himself. Not just because Paul had a mess on his hands but because Paul had the audacity to claim that a "foundation" had been laid in Corinth. Chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm perhaps, but this Paul guy is seriously out of touch with reality. Maybe the supervisor is even thinking he made a mistake in sending Paul to Corinth in the first place. Who knows, but if Paul had a supervisor, it’s doubtful his "foundation" claim would be taken seriously in light of the mess on his hands.

Was Paul completely off his rocker or, in spite of the mess, was he seeing something not readily observable to most? If so, what was that “something” that led him to believe that a foundation had been laid for a movement of the Gospel in Corinth? Furthermore, when we think of “foundations” today, particularly in America, what do we usually think of? What insight can we gain from Paul’s understanding of “foundation laying” and what difference does that perspective make as we seek to advance the Gospel in our own communities?

By the way, my name is Bill ("Jailbreaker"), and the Jailer asked me to post from time to time. Since most of my Christian life has been lived outside America, my point of view is a bit different from most in the States and Jailer thought this additional perspective would be helpful to have on this blog. If you have any comments, fire away!

9 comments:

  1. Knowing the Jailbreaker personally, I really see where he's coming from. We're tempted to judge the success of a ministry by some well-defined cultural norms. What if those don't apply?

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  2. Jailbreaker, great post. Thanks for the reassurance that as we minister that we cannot look towards earthly measures all the time. It is a good thing that we play for an audience of One. "I live before the Audience of One. Before others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose." I have a fealing that Paul knew that and he was okay with that fact. Blessings to you and have an awesome Christmas!

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  3. Paul would say keep going on till it's done Faith. The Collar


    A priest was walking along the school corridor
    near the preschool wing when a group of little
    ones were trotting by on the way to the cafeteria.

    One little lad of about three or four stopped and
    looked at him in his clerical clothes and asked,
    "Why do you dress funny?"

    He told him that he was a priest and that this is
    the uniform priests wear.

    Then he pointed to the priest's little plastic
    collar insert and asked, "Does it hurt? Do you
    have a Boo-boo?"

    The priest was perplexed till he realized that to
    him the collar insert looked like a Band-Aid. So
    the priest took it out to show him. On the back
    of the collar are raised letters giving the name of
    the manufacturer.

    The little guy felt the letters, and the priest asked,
    "Do you know what those words say?"

    "Yes I do," said the lad who was not old enough
    to read. Peering intently at the letters he said,
    "It says, 'Kills ticks and fleas up to six months! Have a happy Chistmas and a blessed new year. St. Poddy.

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  4. Nice article. I wrote a long comment to the article but when i tried to post it...I lost everything. I do agree with you that our cultural bias sometimes distracts from the message and overall goal of evangelism. Dave G

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  5. I think American's are starting to see that the Church we thought we had is nowhere near close to what is really here. As our eyes open up we are starting to see the dirty little mess we really have. With such a small percentage of the people openly claiming they even go to church, let alone consider themselves saved, we are facing the same struggle the Paul had. I glad we can look back at his example along with the other Saints for direction.

    Great article.

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  6. Some really good comments here......thanks! One thing that I went away with from that time was the simple realization that I needed to learn to “live with the mess.”

    Paul faced some serious issues with the Corinthians, yet he had this incredible confidence in the power of the Gospel to transform people’s lives. I came to see that my confidence was more in Christian programs & activities than in the power of the Gospel.

    Yet the question still remains, what exactly did Paul see in this community of believers that gave him the confidence that the Gospel had indeed taken root (that he laid a "healthy" foundation)?

    It obviously was not their stellar character! If anything, their lack would have indicated just the opposite, that the foundation was yet to be laid. But not to Paul.

    Not sure there is a right or wrong answer here, but it's a question that still perplexes me to this very day. If you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them!

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  7. Jailer -- The Jailbreaker's post is terrific. I loved your article for the Cypress Times, too!!

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  8. The foundation was laid in Paul's own heart! And he alone could see what Christ revealed to him as he ministered among the peoples. In Paul's heart he saw what only a few could see. Men and women who were so in love with Jesus and wanted to serve Him no matter the cost involved. He saw the few and knew what he had left....

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  9. Hi Ron, I just now noticed that you left a comment here way back in December. How in the world are you......that is, assuming that you're the same Ron Welsh I knew in Okinawa?

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