9-4 God Chooses To Depend Upon Us
How far His affairs prosper is dependent upon the zeal and initiative
of us His stewards (Lk. 19:12,13; 1 Cor. 4:1,2). The disciples wondered
why only they had been chosen- for wasn’t God’s plan to invite the whole
world to salvation in Jesus? The Lord replied by saying that “I am the
vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me and I in him, the same
bringeth forth much fruit” (Jn. 14:22; 15:1-11). His function was to nourish
the branches, the life which they drew from Him and lived, this would
bring forth the fruit which would offer all men salvation. And this is
perhaps why initial preaching by bills and adverts in a new area of the
world brings forth response, but it dries up once a few converts are made.
It is their duty to bring forth more fruit in that area. In another
figure, Christ is the head, we are the body. As a man may have a healthy
head and mind, and yet be limited by the weakness of his limbs- so with
the Lord Jesus. 1 Cor. 12:21 gives something more than a random example:
the head (the Lord Jesus) cannot do without the feet (a symbol of the
preacher in Rom. 10:15). In the work of witness especially, the Head is
reliant on the preacher for the work He wills to be done. He likens preaching
to drag net fishing (Mt. 13:47), in which one big fishing boat drags a
net which is tied to a small dinghy. God’s fishing is thus dependent on
us, the smaller boat, working with Him. Thus the harvest was plenteous
during the Lord’s ministry, but relatively few were converted due to the
dearth of labourers (Mt. 9:37 implies). The victorious truth that “All
power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” is purposefully juxtaposed
against the next clause, which seems to contradict it: “Go ye therefore,
and teach all nations...” (Mt. 28:18,19). Through teaching and baptising
all nations, the extent of that universal power is made known. But it
depends on the freewill obedience of the believers to this commission.
The Lord had the Spirit without measure, and yet He “could not” do many
miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief. And not only on a personal
level, but also collectively, we can limit the amount and extent of witness.
Thus Paul had a door opened to him to preach in Troas, but the ecclesial
problems in Corinth that were so sapping his energy meant he had to leave
those opportunities inadequately used (2 Cor. 2:12,13 RSV).
Preparing The Way For Others
The command to prepare a way along which to flee to the cities
of refuge (Dt. 19:3) is expressed with the very same words used
about God through the Angels preparing a way for Israel to flee
along, out of Egypt to the promised land (Ex. 23:20). This was obviously
done purely at God’s initiative. But now, Israel were asked
to do the same- to prepare a way for their and others’ salvation.
When we reflect upon our own way of escape from this world, it’s
clear enough that it was by grace. By God’s sole initiative
we came into contact with the Gospel, or were born into such a family
at such a time as enabled us to hear it. Our response to that grace
must be like Israel’s- to prepare a way for others to flee,
when they like us find themselves in a situation that is spiritually
against them, although not of their conscious choice. In fact, if
Israel were indifferent to preparing the way for others’ salvation,
then innocent blood would be shed and they would be responsible
for it (Dt. 19:10). This is powerful stuff. Indifference to providing
others with a way of escape from their sin and death means we are
actually guilty of their lack of salvation. And yet we tend to think
that committed sin is all we have to worry about / avoid. The lesson
here, however, bites far more caustically and insistently into our
comfort zone. If we are indifferent to marking out the way of escape
for others, their blood will be upon our heads. Our chief excuses
for not witnessing enthusiastically basically amount to laziness,
indifference, not getting our act together because we don’t
see we have to… when actually, there is an intense urgency
about our task.
All this doesn't mean that God doesn't participate in the salvation
process, and has 100% turned it over to us. How could He ever be
like that, when the whole marvellous plan involved the giving of
His Son? There is an interplay between God’s calling of men,
and human participation in that outreach. The case of Paul exemplifies
this. Without the vital work of Ananias, he wouldn’t have
been able- in one sense- to come to Christ. And yet it was God who
called Paul. ‘Ananias’ means ‘the grace of God’.
And several times Paul alludes to this, saying that “By [Gk.
‘on account of’] the grace of God [i.e. Ananias] I am
what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 1:15; Eph. 3:8; 1 Tim. 1:14).
His conversion was by both God and Ananias. And thus we see the
seamless connection in every conversion between God’s role,
and that of the preacher.
God reconciled the world; but the word of reconciliation is committed
unto us (2 Cor. 5:19). All men were reconciled to God on the cross,
even while they were sinners (Rom. 5:10); but it depends upon us
to take that Gospel of reconciliation to them. So far as we fail
in this, so far we leave His death for them in vain, only a potential
achievment. We were given reconcilliation personally (Rom. 5:11
RV); and we are also given “the ministry of reconcilliation”, the
command to preach that reconcilliation and share it with others
(2 Cor. 5:10). To be reconciled to God is to be given a charge to
reconcile others. Consider how the unclean animals which Peter saw
in the vision represented all the Gentile world (Acts 10:15,28).
They had already all been “cleansed” by the blood of Christ, but
He was dead in vain, the cleansing achieved for nothing, unless
the likes of Peter took the message to them. The more and the wider
and the more powerfully we do this, the more we enable the cross
of Christ to be victorious, to achieve its end, the more ‘worthwhile’
as it were was the Lord’s sacrifice. Acts 15:17 (cp. Am. 9:12) encourages
us to preach to the Gentiles “upon whom my name is [Amos says ‘has
already been’] called”. The Name is called upon us by baptism; yet
in prospect, in potential, the Name has already been called upon
the whole world. But it is for us to go and convert them. This explains
why Paul is spoken of as having been a convert before he actually
- He wrote that he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. He
seems to be alluding to the practice of branding runaway slaves who
had been caught with the letter F in their forehead, for fugitivus.
His whole thinking was dominated by this awareness that like Jonah he
had sought to run, and yet had by grace been received into his Master’s
service. But the figure implies that he already was a slave of Jesus
at the time of his ‘capture’ in conversion.
- Ananias addresses him as ‘brother’, possibly in realization of this.
- Paul was as an ox bound to a yoke, kicking against the goads.
But it was as if he was already bound into Christ’s light yoke.