I was reading this passage this morning and reflected on Paul’s sacrificial commitment to the ministry of the Good News about Jesus. Paul is intense, extreme, and hard-core in his devotion to Christ and the do-whatever-it-takes posture of spreading the news and encouraging people to be close to God because of Jesus.
Now Paul’s sacrifice for the work of Christ was great – even life-threatening. I’ve lived most of my life in suburbia and minister now in middle-class American suburbia. My ministry has hardly ever been even close to life-threatening. There are those who will be quick to tell me that I’m not *really* living for Christ, much less doing ministry – my life is too easy, convenient, and safe. And they are right – my life is relatively easy, convenient, and safe. One reason that is true is because I have family to care for: a wonderful wife and three great children. Which is a fact consistent with 1Cor. 7:32-35 – that my family responsibilities ‘limit’ my ability to minister.
But I have recently read about ‘limits’ and would gently correct my hard-core accusers: God has made me, shaped me, and equipped me to do some things well and other things not very well at all. I am good with things and tools, bad at athletics; good with words, only fair with numbers; good at changing light bulbs without a ladder, bad a crawling into tight spaces. We all have limits, as well as gifts; experiences as well as naivete'; fumbling as well as competence; calling as well as confusion. What seems to be part of the Christian life is learning to live as God made us and live toward what God wants us to become. My ‘limits,’ I’m learning, are actually gifts that God has given me and I am learning to welcome them and cherish them as helping me to understand the uniqueness that God has formed into me.
So I see my limits as informing my calling – yes, here to suburbia. “Calling,” as I understand it, is the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit on the direction I should take my life – not somebody’s else’s life: mine. And when God tells me to do something, everything I’ve learned and experienced tells me that I should really get about what he tells me to do. The alternative is always worse.
Additionally, I will suggest that “burning out for Jesus!” is not Paul’s answer, either. Philippians 1:21-25 show that Paul actually seems to have considered that option. In my hard-core brothers’ perspective: “live life hard for Jesus, shine bright, flame out, and go to heaven!” Paul seems to have two options before him: flame out and go to heaven, or stay here and slog along being helpful to Christians still here. He seems to indicate that the *more sacrificial option* was to stay here; perhaps even that flaming-out would have been slightly narcissistic and self-serving as an ‘easy way out.’
Nobody is suggesting that martyrdom is easy – but the larger issue is: what does God want? This shows up with Paul again as he state elsewhere that true loving sacrifice was in service, not mere death (Romans 12:1, 1Cor. 13:3).
So as I read this passage in 2Corinthians 4, I am on one hand challenged to stretch, to press into the hard things, and to travel into the bad places – if that’s where God calls me. But just because God called Paul to rather extreme deprivations does not mean I have to follow him there. I follow Paul as he follows Christ (1Cor 11:1) in doing what I have been called to do.