For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 1 Corinthians 3:9-10
The reason we do some things and don’t do other things isn’t always to satisfy some abstract sense of rightness or to avoid the repercussions of being wrong. We do or we don’t because we are building with care. Let me try to say it again: It is not worthy of us to make decisions based merely on desire or out of our survival instinct. We are building something with God that is greater than trying to stay alive and pass on our genes. Let me try it another way: It is beneath us, as Jesus-followers to always live off what other people do, we need to do — God needs us to build something next.
Am I wrong, or is that what is behind what Paul is teaching the Corinthians? He is answering the important questions.
Who am I? I am God’s co-worker. Not because I am a dominated slave who better do something right or I will get fired (literally), but because I am remade for being redemptive and creative like God.
Who am I? I am God’s field, God’s building. Obviously, I am not an inanimate object, but in the same way one can understand working in the field, or constructing a building, I am tended and strengthened for my purpose by God-the-one-who-cares-for-me. What an honor!
What do I do? Now that grace is at work in me, I also create. I am farmed to farm, built to build. Individuals and congregations are like farms — they either produce fruit or death ensues. They are like temples that are built to house our deepest honor; they are like houses built to provide a safe place in which we thrive and from which we explore.
I wish I had a more cogent collection of evidence, rather than a sneaking suspicion. But I think we, as a society, got less adept at building things over the last decade. The most visual evidence of this is how long it has taken to get the Freedom Tower going, even though people were very invested emotionally in getting it done. It has become a symbol of flabby determination and the endless wrangling and self-interest that marks most of our dialogue. Doing something new or big seems more difficult these days. We seem to be living off the excess our empire stored up until it is gone. There is a lot of fat in the United States if you want to live off the fat of the land. I think a lot of us have been trained to do that. But eventually, someone has to build something. I’m afraid the Christians are just as likely as anyone else to feel entitled not to do any work!
There are certainly entrepreneurs around. But they are often repackaging the fruit from someone else’s farm. Doesn’t our whole “economy” work like that these days? U.S. people are best at advertising what other people do. [I am certainly hoping to be proven wrong, here, so let me know]. We often experience this lack of creative initiative in Circle of Hope whenever we talk about building relationships. People have so many reasons why they just don’t have the time and energy to do that.
For instance, we were talking about people in Shalom House starting a cell and someone said, “The housemates might like to be in a cell with someone else so they could talk about the people in Shalom House!” It was like they were protecting them from too much demanding relational work. “Surely you wouldn’t ask someone to build an intentional community for two years and love the people in it every day in the pursuit of making peace! It might kill them! They would quit over the stress. They would feel unhappy that they had to focus and could not follow their free-range desires leading them ‘wherever!'”
If someone asks you to build a relationship from scratch according to how God might like to build one, surely you won’t be at a loss, will you? If the relationship does not fall into your lap fully-formed and functional, surely you won’t be distress, will you?
There are certainly radicals around. But they are often just talking about things instead of actually building something that does something. Doesn’t the educational system generally work this way? My whole doctorate might be mainly devoted to re-quoting scholars quoting other scholars rather than learning how to produce the fruit of creativity.
For instance, we loved Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream the other night. I even ate my annual hamburger with lovely people I rarely see, so I was even more pleased. But one of my friends said, “That was nice, but what was it for?” I told them I thought the whole thing was designed to be good communication. There was no illusion that anything but informed and changed minds should result (at least as far as I could tell). That happened. But it was a good question: “Now what? So what?” Circle of Hope often gets stalled out at the talking stage, too. We have the best theology! But what are we going to do? I think God wants to have a building that is built on rock that not only withstands the weather of this evil age, but actually shines an effective, transformative light on it in such a way that people can take the next steps they need to take.
Oh my, that is a lot of work! Talking about it, having the right DVDs for my kids, reading the Bible some times, listening to speeches, etc. is a lot easier than building an alternative community that demonstrates the love and truth of Jesus in every way it is gifted to do so. We can process information, but can we produce what the info calls for?
Even with all my suspicions that we have lost the know-how, I certainly think we are trying! But I think we might have more productive farms and stronger buildings in the Spirit if we would admit that we might need some new capabilities when it comes to getting some work done. Let me say it again: We need to remember who we are as co-builders with God. That identity might inspire some action. Good trees bear good fruit. One more time: We need to not only be wise in how we build, we need to build the wisdom of God right back into our environment in completely practical ways, like building the alternative called Circle of Hope.
“Each one should build with care,” Paul says. I agree. I need to build. I need to care. I need to build with care.