An Influencer for Christ – 22 January 2017

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The Rev’d Jonathan Gale

Isaiah 9: 1 – 4

The Righteous Reign of the Coming King

9*But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 *The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.


1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 18

Divisions in the Church

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.* 12What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God* that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


Matthew 4: 12 – 23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus* heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’*

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesus* went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news* of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

As Christians we are called to influence people.

When we take that seriously we find ourselves in a constantly uneasy place, a place of a different dimension, especially when God calls us to listen in a particular way. What do I mean by that?

It was Walter Brueggemann who said something along the lines of; you can’t expect to influence people towards a different place if you are not already living there. Or words to that effect. You get the idea. If you are going to lead spiritually you need, in a sense, already to be where you are leading.  In other words to be in a different place from where those you are influencing might be.

That different place is nearer rather than further. The image of separation is always an image for sin in Scripture, so the different place means a place closer to God. It’s different from the norm out there, not different from God.

When the Christian is focussed on influencing others for Christ, they are less likely to fall prey to what Paul calls “party spirit”.  (Galatians 5: 20) Another word used for this is factionalism. Being drawn into factionalism is a process, and it’s more this process than its outcome of factionalism that I’m interested in this morning.

The famous commentator W. E. Vine says it [1]“denotes a … choice; then … an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects.

It seems from our reading of 1 Corinthians this morning that some of these factions in the church in Corinth were related to who had baptised the individual, so Paul says, 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  More on that later.

In our Gospel reading we see that the disciples, when called by Jesus, left their safe group (the fishermen with whom they laboured to earn a living each day) and followed him. Their faction was the safe company of fishermen.

It was a place where they could be self-reliant, where they could depend upon their skills and the brotherhood they had built up over time, not only for feeding their families, and for mutual protection, but for a sense of identity too.

It was a place where they did not need to rely on God and where their influence on others was minimal. They left all that and followed Jesus.

As security we hold onto things that we believe will be in our best interests, even when they are not.

Factionalism is a form of exclusivity, either a group or a mindset that will support our self-interest.

I mentioned earlier that the commentator Vine had said the cause of factionalism was what he called self-willed and opinionated thinking. I don’t doubt that, but another cause is fear. We believe we should bolster our protection by putting into place loyalties that take precedence over trusting Christ. And fear is caused by a lack of faith, of trust. Simply put, if I don’t believe that God is going to care for me, I put greater trust in other mechanisms of care.

These could be anything. Take family for example. It is a fine Christian thing to care for one’s family but when our reliance upon family (and I mean at a deep psychological and spiritual level) is deeper than our reliance upon God, we have created a faction.

Sometimes it’s not people at all. We develop a mindset that we trust more than God.

I said it was more the process involved that I wanted us to think about today. The thing about self-willed and opinionated thinking is that it keeps God at bay. It objectifies God. Me here and God over there. The further we move from God, the less we identify with him as our centre of well-being, our primary affection. Very slowly God becomes the enemy, the one who impinges upon you rather than nourishes you.

Sin never presents itself with a swagger and conquers us right then and there. It is subtle. It is a slow process that begins gently with an idea and progresses slowly by an appeal to self-centred well-being, sometimes an appeal to the senses, and finally with a strong suggestion of outright opposition.

Joseph Stalin did not progress from wanting to be a priest in the church of Christ to being one of history’s greatest butchers of millions overnight. We don’t have time now but have a close look at the story of the Fall in Genesis 3 and watch the subtle progression that led to outright rebellion against God. There is a process involved.

We only fall for sin when we are not on the lookout, when we entertain the idea. The old saying, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from nesting in your hair,” applies here.

We don’t wake up one day and find that we have placed greater trust in something other than God overnight. It will have happened gradually. It’s only when the rabbit is caught in the net that the rabbit-catcher says, “Aha! Got you!”

The good news is that prevention is better than cure, that focussing on the love Jesus consistently shows us and growing our relationship with God will protect us. So will instant obedience to the things God’s Spirit prompts us to do. That’s how Peter and Andrew did it. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The business of what W.E. Vine called choice, self-willed opinion, lack of submission to the truth and finally factionalism is no different from the way temptation that is entertained, leads to sin (i.e. independence from God) for that is the essence of sin.

If we want to make our lives count, if we want to be Christians who influence others for God, we have to ensure that we are in that different place Walter Brueggemann speaks of – close to God. And at the most basic level, we can only be there if we maintain a relationship with God that sees God as the one we identify with, as the source of all our love and security.

Protecting that, is vital. Otherwise we slip

  • From Grace into Law and finally into Licence.
  • From a love relationship into a sense of obligation and finally into rebellion.
  • From having Christ as our primary source of identity, security and joy to seeing Christ as that which impinges rather than fulfils us to complete opposition to Christ.

In the end it comes down to our relationship to Christ. It’s interesting that Paul provides the cross as a solution.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

There is that within us that tends away from God. It’s sometimes translated in Scripture as the Old Nature – in other words that little bit in us that tries to wriggle out from submitting to God. The death of the old nature is what is symbolised in the burial aspect of our baptism – the dunking under the water.

Someone once said we keep trying to reform the Old Nature. You can’t reform it, you can only crucify it. Therefore “the message about the cross is the power of God to us who are being saved”. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

If you’ve ever been puzzled by how an instrument of torture and death – a cruel gallows – can be the power of God and a benefit to our lives it is just that: a killing off of the selfish Old Nature, the flesh.  A neutralising of that which makes us more susceptible to entertaining sin and finding ourselves outside of the grace of God.

Jesus said For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16: 25)

When we lose our own lives we are open to accommodating the resurrection life of Jesus. When we allow THAT to happen, we will find that we become influencers for Christ, because  it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2: 13)

One more image for you. Can you imagine what a rough time the Israelites would have had trying to conquer the Promised Land had the Egyptian army not drowned in the baptism of the Red Sea? Trying to serve God without living out the full power of our baptism (including the crucifixion of the Old Nature) is just as difficult.

May both you and I embrace the power of the cross and draw nearer to God in order to be more effective influencers for Christ.