"Reputable Agents of the Best Deal Going"
Mar.13, 2011 2Cor.5:20-6:10
IS 'CHRISTIAN BUSINESS' AN OXYMORON?
Today we welcome and are looking forward to a presentation by Christian Business Mission of Huron. Some might question whether the words "Christian" and "Business" go together - is the expression "Christian Business" an oxymoron? After all, isn't business about making a profit, and doesn't Christianity label greed a sin? Can a person call themselves a true Christian and still run a profitable business? Jesus taught the Golden Rule, "Do to others what you would have them do to you..." (Mt 7:12) In contrast, Charles Dickens wrote: "Do other men for they would do you.That's the true business precept."
Associated with business is the shady concept of the travelling salesman - someone who's out to twist your arm into buying something you don't really need, or that turns out to be not as good a deal as it first seemed. On the scale of trustworthiness, most people would rank them down near the bottom along with lawyers and politicians. Even at the corporate level, companies can be guilty of pretending to give good service when really they don't.
Charles Swindoll writes, "I heard about a man who took a dinner flight. After the stewardess had served him his meal, he unwrapped the salad and noticed right on top a rather large roach. Infuriated, enraged, he couldn't wait to get home and write the president of the airline a letter--hot and to the point.
Within a matter of a very few days he received a special delivery letter in return, an answer signed by the president himself, typed beautifully on the letterhead of the airline. It was dripping with apologies. "I have taken immediate action," it said. "In fact, I have temporarily pulled that airplane off the line.We have stripped the seats.We have stripped the upholstery.It will not go back on line until everything is in shipshape condition.You have my word.The flight attendant who served you that meal, well, her job is in jeopardy.As a matter of fact, I promise you that will never occur again.Please, continue to fly on our airline."
Well, the man was remarkably impressed. However, he noticed something unusual. Quite by accident the president's secretary had somehow inadvertently allowed his original letter to be stuck to the back of this letter. And as he turned it over, a note at the bottom said, "Send this guy the standard roach letter." (!)
Despite the anecdotes about salesmen and shady corporate dealings, it is a fact that there have been many businesses effectively run by Christians throughout history. More and more companies are wising up to the reality that only good ethics can provide a sound foundation for any enterprise. Jesus calls people from all walks of life to follow Him, including salesmen, executives, and entrepreneurs. In today's passage, we even find several parallels between business and how the church is to present the gospel: in Paul's mind, when it comes to evangelism, Christians are to be reputable agents of the best deal going.
THE BEST DEAL GOING
The Good News about Jesus Christ, or, as Paul refers to it here, "the ministry of reconciliation" is the most wonderful offer people can avail themselves of. 5:20, God is 'making His appeal', calling upon or paracleting us with an offer too good to refuse. It's an appeal to us to receive what 6:1 terms "God's grace", or as New Living Translation puts it, "this marvelous gift of God's kindness". At the heart of the offer is the prospect of being reconciled to God, put right with God, having our accounts squared up. As sinners we are miserable debtors with no hope of ever settling the debt we owe to our perfectly holy Creator. We have fallen far short of God's glory. But at the cross, God accomplished something unthinkable: a swap of the Son of God's infinite holiness for our guilt. 5:21 boils it down for us: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." See the exchange at the heart of the deal? Christ's righteousness for our sin. He paid that debt for you.
When shopping, I love deals with big discounts. The gospel is the biggest discount deal going! Read about it in 5:19: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." Not counting our sins - what a marvelous discount! Something we could never afford in a thousand lifetimes of good works.
REPUTABLE AGENTS OF A LIMITED-TIME OFFER
That is the economy of the gospel. Seems too good to be true, but God bought your salvation because He loved you so much and wanted you near Him for eternity, not burning in hell which your fallenness warranted. So, how's He going to get the word out? Now, here's something amazing: God could have sent angels flying with banners across the sky or writing it in big bold letters on the clouds. He could have stamped the offer on every snowflake or printed it on the leaves of every tree. But no, He had another plan.
Are you familiar with the 'network marketing' concept? Probably the most famous example is Amway, but hundreds of products are sold through networks. Yvonne used to sell Watkins, which made good-quality kitchen and household items. Others sell Avon, or Epicure, or Tupperware, and so on. The genius behind the network marketing concept is that each new seller can introduce the product to their own particular circle of contacts, their neighbourhood and friends. And so the influence diffuses throughout society on a person-to-person basis.
Well, guess how God has ordained for the gospel to be shared? Through a networking approach! 5:18, God "gave us the ministry of reconciliation." 5:19, God "has committed to us the message of reconciliation." 20, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." For 'ambassadors' Paul uses a term that was universally recognized for the Imperial Legate in his day, the Roman Emperor's officially-authorized representative. And there are a couple more hints of delegated networking in chapter 6: v1, "As God's co-workers..." and v4, "as servants of God..." When Jesus commanded "Go therefore and make disciples" He was authorizing you to be His agent in presenting the wonderful offer of God's grace to your neighbours, your friends, your co-workers. That's His marketing plan!
Note briefly some other aspects of this "spiel" or 'good spell' / Gospel, the appeal God primes us to present.
It is INTENSE. We talk about 'high-pressure salesmen'. Paul's not high-pressure in the sense of coercive, but he sure is intense; not 'desperate' but serious. Look at the verbs: 5:20, "We implore you" (NLT plead). 6:1, "We urge you" (NLT we beg you). Sense the intensity - this is really important to him. Is that true for us? Do we pray with sincere yearning for our contacts who are lost, so when we're sharing about Jesus with them, they sense how important this is, the gravity of what's at stake? Can we let go of our Canadian respectability to the point of imploring and pleading, even begging? You may be their last chance to hear God's offer this side of eternity.
The offer is URGENT. The verb tense in 5:20 is, "Get reconciled to God." 6:2 puts more stress on the time element, "For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." In the Greek, Paul prefaces 'now' each time with 'behold', accentuating it, trying to get our attention: "Look! Focus your attention - before it's too late."
I dislike few things more than aggressive sales approaches where someone phones you up with what seems a really great offer like a free cruise, but you've got to decide right then-and-there; the time limitation almost makes me sweat, I'd much rather have time to think and pray about it, research it, and call them back. In the case of the gospel, much more is at stake than a 2-day cruise: we're talking about where you'll spend eternity! God is gracious - He's not about to slam down the receiver in the next 5 minutes. Yet you don't have forever to decide; it IS a limited-time offer. Each week the paper's obits page carries names of those for whom the window of opportunity has closed.
The offer is intense; it is urgent; it is OVERCOMING. The motto in business is, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Why? Everybody gets mice from time to time. The saying would not be true if mice weren't so prevalent.
In the case of the gospel, we're not talking about mice, but problems. Everybody has problems. Life is not fair; life is tough. Even Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount observed, "Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Mt 6:34) So the take-off of the mousetrap motto when it comes to evangelism is, "Show someone how Jesus can help them deal with life's problems, and you'll have their attention."
In 6:4-10 Paul talks about how the Gospel helps him overcome problems in a general way and in particulars. V4 lists the general principle: "...as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses..." The Greek terms translated here can reflect pressures, afflictions, 'tight spots' or narrow places. Talk to most people long enough and you'll become aware of pressures or concerns and anxieties or regrets they're dealing with. Such a simple thing as offering to pray for the particular hardship or stress they're facing can be a non-threatening way to open a door in a spiritual direction.
In verses 5 and 8-10 Paul goes on to list over a dozen other particular types of trouble or stress he's faced personally - problems which Christ's grace has helped him overcome. Beatings, imprisonments (at least 4 that we know of - Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome), riots, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonour, bad report, being regarded as impostors or unknown, dying, beaten, sorrowful, poor, having nothing... Compared to THAT list, suddenly your problems don't seem so big, do they? Yet Paul maintains that in such severe troubles as these, Jesus has made all the difference, helping him cope and be able to keep going.
ARE YOU A 'DEMONSTRATOR' MODEL?
If you're like me, you're a sucker for free samples at the grocery store. Samples give you a chance for a taste-test: to try before you buy. Or maybe you've been at a department store where some migrant salesman was giving a demonstration of the latest handy kitchen-slicer-dicer gadget. Such demonstrations are fun to watch, partly because we know how tedious cutting up vegetables with just a knife can be. It's much more appealing to see a product in action than just sitting in a box.
In verses 3 and 4 of chapter 6, Paul emphasizes that the apostles' lives demonstrate the trustworthiness of the God's special offer, the gospel. It's proven in their experience. No shady travelling-salesman tricksterism here! He explains, "We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way..." (2Co 6:3f) They're being careful that their ministry not have any blame or fault attributed to it; instead, they want it to be commendable, proven, established. How does this happen? "In every way" - all the situations just mentioned, how they live their everyday life in the face of all those problems. Christ's overcoming is the proof. Verse 6 especially lists some aspects of regenerate living that show through despite such circumstances: "in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love..." (2Co 6:6)
When people see you encountering problems, they'll be watching closely to see if being a Christian makes any difference. You're the proof of the pudding! Your purity, patience, kindness, and sincere love supplied by the Holy Spirit become a convincing case of God's grace and favour. Whatever your occupation, as a Christian this is your ministry: you are 'Exhibit A'!
In closing, we welcome Harry DenHaan of Christian Business Mission of Huron to outline how their group is seeking to put feet to their faith and reach our local area as Christ's ambassadors in tangible ways.