Tag Archives: Appeal

Cooperation, not Competition

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
1 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers has two venues for worship, and each Sunday there are worship services that run in both rooms at the same time. For the past few years I have had the honor of working with a team of individuals who are developing their gifts and skills in teaching. Every season there is a rotating team of people who take turns teaching on Sundays and then meeting mid-week to discuss their experience and improve their skills. It’s a diverse group of both men and women of different ages, educational backgrounds, and vocational experiences. It’s been a fascinating experience for me to lead and participate. I’ve learned a lot.

One of the things I’ve tried to impress on our team of teachers is the reality that each week I get up to teach there will be those who are excited to see me up there, and those who who are not. As we represent a diverse cross-section of humanity, we each will appeal to different individuals within our gathering. Those who are gifted teachers and develop those gifts will naturally develop broader appeal, but no teacher enjoys universal appeal (not even Jesus). It just is what it is. I think that’s why Jesus’ followers are called a “body” and the spiritual gift of teaching is given to a diverse number of individuals across all parts of the body.

As I’ve been studying the early history of the Jesus Movement, I am repeatedly struck at how quickly the story shifts from the original twelve apostles to a host of other characters. In many cases, these almost anonymous individuals, such as Ananias (Acts 9:10-19), pop onto the scene like a bit player with a walk-on role, then make their exit never to be heard from again. Others characters are only referenced or mentioned, but nonetheless they played a large off-stage role. Apollos was one of these.

Apollos was from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, a city of great influence in the ancient world. Apollos was from the upper crust of society in those days. He was highly educated and trained in oratory, the art of speech and debate, which was arguably the most esteemed skill at that time of history. We don’t know how Apollos became a believer, but he arrives on the scene using his speaking and debate skills arguing that Jesus was the Messiah. He was such a powerful teacher and speaker, in fact, that he naturally developed broad appeal within the Jesus Movement, especially with many of the believers of Corinth. Division sprouted among the Corinthians believers as some in the local gathering there began to treat it as if it was a “The Voice” type of competition. Some were on “Team Paul” and other were on “Team Apollos.”

Paul immediately shuts down these notions of competition between the two. It’s not a competition, Paul argues, but a cooperation. Both Paul and Apollos had a role to play in the Corinthian believers faith and spiritual growth. Each brought his own unique personality, style, background, experience, and appeal. Every believer in Corinth had something to learn from both Paul and Apollos. This wasn’t “either, or” it was “both, and.”

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of the diverse team of individuals with whom I partner to teach among my local gathering of believers. It’s been a blast for me to watch each of them develop their own voice, speak from their own unique experiences, and watch our gathering grow and learn from such a broad range of voices. It’s a weekly and constant reminder that “the church” was never to be a monument to a particular, persuasive teacher or leader. Every local gathering has both a Paul and an Apollos (and an Ananias, and a Priscilla, and an Aquila, and a Chloe and….).

It’s not competition. It’s cooperation. Or else, we’re doing it wrong.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 26

photo by usfwsnortheast via Flickr

Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
    Test my motives and my heart.
Psalm 26:2 (NLT)

The other morning in the Wall Street Journal there was a fascinating article about the difficulty in erasing human bias from judging Olympic events. As flawed human beings we tend to pre-judge and judge others without much thought or effort. In our every day lives we are very good at Olympic-style judging of others while being very poor at judging with fairness, justice and objectivity.

Maybe that’s why Jesus was so adamant in demanding that we don’t judge others:

  • Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)
  • “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Years ago I went through a divorce after seventeen years of marriage. One of the most difficult aspects of that agonizing stretch of my journey was how quickly I heard and experienced the judgement of friends, family, neighbors and strangers who convicted me in their minds without knowledge, examination, conversation, evidence, or trial. To this day I can experience the rippling effects of those human judgements in silly ways.

Because we all tend to judge and pre-judge others imperfectly, we also tend to experience the judgement and prejudice of others in one way or another. It’s part of the human experience. Through the period of my divorce I learned to make my appeals to God, just like the writer of the lyrics in today’s Psalm. I can’t control the judgement of others, but I can make my appeal to God who is the only Judge who counts for eternity.  I can’t stop others from making skewed and false judgements of me, but God has required that I forgive those who do.

Today, I’m echoing David’s appeal and asking God to examine and test my heart and motives. I’m reminding myself to give up any senseless effort to control what others think, do and say about me. I’m choosing to forgive those who have chosen to sit in judgement of my life like a biased Olympic judge holding up their score on a placard.