It’s a phrase I have noticed myself using more often these days while ministering in Solihull: Christ-centred, gospel-focused. I have the privilege of leading a church that is in its seventh year now, yet in some ways has barely got started. The next two years, humanly speaking, are critical. In a sense we have had an easy time of it so far. But now the questions I have been asking people to consider (as I ask myself) really do become important. Do we know why we are here? What is our mission? What is our focus of attention?
It would be easy to become distracted on to secondary and tertiary issues. That which we might think is important and indeed urgent, actually is not so important as this fundamental thing: to be Christ-centred and gospel-focused. What do I mean? I ought to have a go at explaining what I mean by those terms.
While in training for the ministry a passage that began to mean a great deal to me as I thought about my role as a prospective minister was Philippians 3:7-11. There, Paul says:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (ESV)
“Knowing Christ”, “gain Christ”, “faith in Christ”, “know him”. The power of this Christ-centredness grips me every time, as it gripped me in those early days. This man, Paul, who was instrumental in God’s plans for the propagation of the gospel across the known Gentile world of the 1st century AD, had at the very heart of all his strategising and planning a hunger, born of love, to know Christ and to become like him. It was all for him and about him. Paul didn’t do anything that did not serve this central purpose.
I wonder what it must have been like to accompany Paul on his journeys. There would be the day-to-day discussions about what to do next and how to do it. Practical lessons, no doubt. But that would not be where the real treasure of learning could be found. This gritty man, with scars on his back from vicious flogging, by all accounts nothing much to look at, yet how he would have led us into Christ! As he would have explained the scripture, as he and we would ruminate over it, not in an academic fashion, but dripping with devotion to a Saviour, we would have found ourselves taken up with Christ Jesus. Christ-centred.
Gospel focused. Another important passage that has gripped me in the last few weeks, which presents the theme of the book of Romans: Romans 1:16,17. Here Paul says:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)
Paul has already written of how the gospel is that “concerning his Son” (Rom 1:3). It is this Son about which he sought to teach and preach – see his desire to preach it to the Romans (Rom 1:15). It was Paul’s delight to declare to both friends and enemies the wonderful gospel of Christ. In the light of what he is about to explain in subsequent chapters – the sin that enslaves – this gospel is the only way of salvation. God displays his righteousness by granting righteousness through faith. Precious. Glittering. Worth declaring and receiving. So he is not ashamed.
I guess it is difficult to underestimate the bravery that Paul was able to display as a result. We begin to understand his willingness to unashamedly suffer abuse and shame – for Christ, for the salvation of men and women.
As we at Solihull look forward to 2012, these two foci (which are really collocated) will be vital for us to grasp and embrace. Love for and devotion to Christ leads to obedience and a desire to serve him. Christ’s heart of compassion on a people who are like sheep without a shepherd becomes our heart. Their need for the gospel becomes an urgent priority for us. May God grant us grace to be Christ-centred and gospel-focused in 2012.