I was reading this morning in 1 Corinthians. The first three chapters deal a lot with divisions that were taking place within the church. People were choosing sides and joining teams based on the leaders they liked best. For you older folk, think of the choice of being a Little Bit Country or a Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll. For you Millennials, think Team Edward or Team Jacob. For you Gen Z’ers, think House of Gryffindor, House of Hufflepuff, House of Ravenclaw, or House of Slytherin. For the Corinthians (who were definitely of the Rock ‘n’ Roll, Edward, Slytherin kind), they were lining up behind Paul, Apollos, and Christ. So, Paul takes them to task. “What is wrong with you people? Think about it! Paul and Apollos are nothing! There should be one team and one team only – Team Christ!”
Paul then begins chapter four with this sentence: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1) The “us” here refers to Paul and Apollos. Looking for word repetition is often a good way to discover what the author is trying to communicate in a passage. In the verse above, there is only one word that is repeated more than once. Do you see it? It is the word “of”. So often it is just a throw-away word, but here it has great significance. Paul is saying that he is an “of” person. In other words, Paul cannot stand alone. There is not enough worthwhile in him or in his work to not have a modifier attached. He is not just Paul. He is not even just “Paul, apostle” or “Paul, missionary” or “Paul, tent-maker”. He is Paul, servant of Christ. He is Paul, steward of the mysteries of God. His identity and the the worthiness of his work find their value in the modifiers “of Christ” and “of God”.
Every now and then, God brings a cool nexus in my daily chapters. After I finished 1 Corinthians 4, then read 1 Peter 1, I found myself back in Exodus 21. As God began giving some revolutionary laws about treating slaves and servants with respect and decency, He addressed the strange situation of a slave who refused the seventh-year-freedom rule. Moses wrote, “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.” (Exodus 21:5-6) The slave realized that a future serving in the house he was in would be so much better than freedom outside the house. So he willing submitted to becoming an “of”. “I am Mahath, slave of Azariah.” “I am Shimri, servant of Jeuel.”
As you start this new year, I want to encourage you to embrace your “of”. There are two categories in which this should be done – who you are and what you do. The “who you are” is simple and will be the same for all of us – “I am Steve, slave of Christ”. Feel free to use “servant” if it is more comfortable for you, and I’d recommend you use your own name instead of mine, otherwise it would be kinda strange. The “what you do” will take some thinking and praying. This can include your job, family relationships, ministry roles – really anything in which you find your identity. “I am Tim, engineer of Christ.” “I am Mary, secretary of Christ.” In some situations, you may want to change “of” to “for”, because not doing so could lead to some weirdness. “I am Wes, father of Christ.” “I am Dennis, prison guard of Christ.” “For” just fits better, even though you already know what you mean.
Whether you give this a shot or not, please take some time tomorrow morning to hang out with the Lord. Commit the year to Him. Ask Him to grow you this coming year. Ask Him to challenge you in new areas. Ask Him to stretch your faith and use you to make a difference in people’s lives. And, if you feel ready for the “of” commitment, put your ear against a door and pound an awl through it.*
*I am using this figuratively and not literally, and by writing this disclaimer I hereby release myself from all liability for doctor’s bills and/or home repairs. This also serves as notice that if you show up on Sunday with your ear bandaged, we will all admire your commitment even as we mock you.