It’s a great line from a Toni Morrison novel: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
Our task is to pay it forward. It’s not just “a grab-bag candy game.” That is to say, it’s not all about what you can get for yourself.
God has given us a task. Here’s Peterson’s take on 2 Corinthians 5 that makes that same point:
“Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.
God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” (2 Cor 5)
“God has given us the task…”
If that sounds as if Paul is calling us to grit our teeth and just try harder, then we’re missing the nub of this letter. Paul wants us to see the whole world in a whole new way, so that our actions stem from this new understanding, not from trying harder.
Paul wants us to become so thoroughly transformed that we become members of a “new creation.”
It’s a new creation somewhat similar to the first creation. From the beginning God intended that men and women work together (Gen. 1:27; 2:18), in a working partnership with God (Gen. 2:19), to “till the ground” (Gen. 2:15), “give names” to the creatures of the earth, and exercise “dominion” (Gen. 1:26) over the earth as God’s stewards.
God’s intent for creation, in other words, includes work as a central reality of existence. It’s our inner purpose: We are crafted for the purpose of reconciliation.
When humans disobeyed God and marred the creation, work became cursed (Gen. 3:17–18), and humans no longer worked alongside God. So when Paul says, “Everything has become new,” everything includes the world of work as a core element.
God brings the new creation into existence by sending his Son into the old creation to transform or “reconcile” it. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” Not just one aspect of the world, but the whole world. And those who follow Christ, who are reconciled to God by Christ, are appointed to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). We are agents to bring reconciliation to all spheres of the world.
Every day as we go out to do our work we are to be ministers of this reconciliation.
This includes reconciliation between people and God (evangelism and discipleship), between people and people (conflict resolution), and between people and their work (goods and services that meet genuine needs and improve the quality of life and care for God’s creation).
There are three bits to this work of reconciliation.
Identifying the problem
First, we must understand accurately what has gone wrong among people, God, and the creation. If we do not truly understand the ills of the world, then we cannot bring genuine reconciliation any more than an ambassador can effectively represent one country to another without knowing what’s going on in both.
Seeing people from that perspective
Second, we must love other people and work to benefit them rather than to judge them. “We regard no one from a human point of view,” Paul tells us (2 Cor. 5:16)—that is, as an object to be exploited, eliminated, or adulated, but as a person for whom “Christ died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).
If we condemn the people in our workplaces or withdraw from the daily places of life and work, we are regarding people and work from a human point of view. If we love the people we work among and try to improve our workplaces, products, and services, then we become agents of Christ’s reconciliation.
Knowing our place in God’s work: “We’re speaking for Christ himself now”
Finally, being seeds of God’s creation, of course, requires that we remain in constant fellowship with Christ. If we do these things, we will be in a position to bring Christ’s power to reconcile the people, organizations, places, and things of the world so that they too can become members of God’s new creation.
Facing a task unfinished
that drives us to our knees,
a need that, undiminished,
rebukes our slothful ease,
we who rejoice to know you
renew before your throne
the solemn pledge we owe you
to go and make you known. (Frank Houghton)
Now that you’ve got this job that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else to go and make Him known
This is not just a grab-bag candy game.