Observing the Context: In the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus sending his disciples out on their first mission. He charges them "to cure the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse the lepers" while receiving no payment, carrying no bag for the journey (no change of clothes) and trusting in "the kindness of strangers" (see Matthew chapter 10). This seems like a huge charge to the neophyte followers of Jesus who have only recently come down from the Sermon on the Mount. Buried in the middle of Jesus’ charge is the motto of my Seminary (Drew University School of Theology) the Greek phrase: "dorean elabote, dorean dote." This translates literally as "freely received, freely give," but more accurately is translated "given gifts, give gifts" according to then Dean of the Theological School, Thomas W. Ogletree (1981-1990). One of my mentors, Robert Jehu Bull, translated this little piece as "those to whom much is given, much is expected." As I heard these words I was sitting in a class of high-powered Greek and Latin graduate students who were being challenged to read Tertullian in the original languages. Since I was the lone student from the seminary I just whispered "thank you Jesus" that I was allowed to read this church father in English and I plunged into the semester.
Applying the Lesson to My Life: As I pondered last week’s words, "What’s Love Got to Do with It?"
I was drawn to the juxtaposition of the following phrases: "blessed
are the merciful, for they will receive mercy" (Matthew 5:7), "love
does not insist on its own way" (1 Corinthians 13:5), and this week’s
word "freely you have received, freely give." Implied in each instance
is an understanding that someone else is involved. And when I relate
to someone else, that standard of my relation is God’s relationship
with me. Suddenly, Jesus word "be perfect, as your heavenly father is
perfect" (Matthew 5:48) has teeth for my spiritual life.
Love is about relationships and most importantly it is about the
other. From your Sunday School days you may remember the Rule of JOY – love Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. From last year’s study of The Purpose-Driven Life
you may remember that the first words from Rick Warren’s pen were "It’s
not about you." And yet we live in a world that screams "It’s all
Have you ever played with one Lego block? You know push one block
around the floor or pretend it is a house … have you ever played with
one Lego block? You can’t! Lego’s were made for one another. One
side of a block attaches itself to the main board or another block.
And it doesn’t end there … other blocks can be attached to the first
block. And if a group is playing with Le gos together all it takes is
one person holding one block "hostage" to keep the others from
finishing the game. Have you ever held a Lego hostage? Have you ever
held love hostage … not wanting others to attach themselves to you
until the conditions were right. Have you ever insisted on your own
way? Is that love (you may want to consult 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 before you answer)?
Let’s pay attention to one congregation that needed reminding to freely give (the Corinthians):
- Grace-filled Worship – Paul reminded the Corinthians that worship is an act directed toward God and "when you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" (1 Corinthians 14:26, see Paul’s fuller word on worship in 1 Corinthians 14:26-39. Note "women keeping silent in the church" had more to do with cultural practices of Paul’s day, than with the appropriateness of women speaking in our churches today). So often we judge worship by what we received … yet Paul asks what did you bring to worship?
- Group Fellowship – Paul reminds the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper is a feast for all to share in equally (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). What Paul is talking about here is essentially a pot-luck supper. Each member of the community brought what they were able to bring to share at the feast. Unfortunately divisions in the fellowship arose because the wealthier members were able to leave their work earlier in the day and had developed a habit of not waiting for the whole community to gather before eating. They often ate the choicest tidbits before the poorer members of the community arrived. The result: "one goes hungry and another becomes drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:21) was at odds with God’s salvation freely made available to all persons.
- Growing Discipleship – Paul reminded the Corinthians that their hope rests not in who baptized them, but that they were baptized in Jesus’ Name (see 1 Corinthians 3). He goes on to say that he has fed them milk because they are infants in Christ, but that solid food is the goal for discipleship. Our discipleship should grow from its solid foundation in Christ as we become God’s temple (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).
- Gifted Ministry – A single Lego block is always part of some bigger creation. So it is with Christians. Paul pointed to the Corinthians’s pride in their individual gifts, and scolded them for forgetting that "you are [all] the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27, see 1 Corinthians 12). Our gifts are deployed in service to building up the body of Christ. Each of us is part of the whole creation that is to be. Each member is crucial to God’s final plan. We cannot hold ourselves away from the group until God’s plan is changed into something we like. No God’s love overwhelms our desire to "insist on our own way."
- Generous Mission – Paul reminds the Corinthians that God was generous with each of them and they in turn can be generous in their gifts to the "saints in Jerusalem" (for all of Paul’s plea, see 2 Corinthians 8-9). Paul restates Jesus’ "freely, freely" challenge by saying "the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully … for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
Prayer: "God forgave my sin in Jesus’ Name, I’ve been born again in Jesus’ Name, and in Jesus’ Name I come to you, to share his power as he told me to. He said, "Freely, freely you have received, freely, freely give. Go in my name, and because you believe, others will know that I live" (The United Methodist Hymnal, #389). AMEN.
SOAP = Scripture, Observation, Application, & Prayer