Embodying the Message

June 14, 2022
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2 Corinthians 5:11-21.

Delegates from the forty-nine classes (geographical regions) of the Christian Reformed Church are gathered in Grand Rapids, Michigan for Synod 2022. The delegates have been chosen by their classis to deliberate and make decisions on key issues that affect the whole denomination. Perhaps this year more than others in recent times, the classes are choosing delegates who can accurately communicate for them. The classes are sending representatives whose perspectives and positions align with the perspectives and positions of the majority in the classis. The delegates will both communicate on behalf of and embody the message of the classis. 

For the classes who have sent overtures to Synod, the delegates will be individuals able to further expound and apply the principles contained in the written communication to questions posed by other delegates.

The delegates are sent by the local church as regional partners in ministry. In some respects they are like letter carriers in the ancient world, although I wouldn’t say overtures to Synod are quite on the same level as an epistle of Paul to the churches. However, like the delegates, Paul’s letter carriers were trusted partners who embodied the message they were delivering. They were individuals who could further expound on the written communication and apply the principles it contained to questions posed by those in the recipient church.

Paul sent his letter to the church in Philippi with Epaphroditus. He was a trusted “brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25). Epaphroditus risked his own life for the sake of others. Paul highlights the character of Epaphroditus as one who models the same self-giving love that Paul saw in the Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:5-8). He embodied the message. He was an example of what Paul desired to see in the believers in Philippi. In the letter, Paul invites them to sacrificially give to those in need in Jerusalem. The presence of Epaphroditus supports and strengthens the message in the letter. 

The same was true of the letter carrier to Rome. Paul’s clearly articulated gospel message includes an appeal for their unity in Christ. Their unity was threatened by distrust and suspicion between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. In the letter, Paul differentiates between theological and cultural disagreements, between essentials and non-essentials. His appeal to Jewish and Gentile Christians is consistent with his earlier letter to the church in Galatia, and his letter carrier reinforced the message. 

Biblical scholarship and Christian tradition believe Paul’s letter carrier was a woman–Phoebe. She is an illustration of his teaching that, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28). Phoebe is a living example of equality in the church and Paul’s call to unity (Rom.12:5). 

Phoebe was a deacon of the church in Cenchreae, a coastal town five miles from Corinth. Paul entrusted her to both carry his letter to Rome and explain its contents to the recipient church. He commended Phoebe to the church and highlighted that she was a benefactor who had been generous to many including him. This too is significant and perhaps another reason why he chose Phoebe. Within the letter, Paul asks the church to support his planned mission to Spain (Rom.15:24). There continues to be integrity between the content of the letter and the carrier of the letter.

While the integrity of the message is most important, the integrity of the messenger is significant. God always intended that his people would embody his message. God rescued the Israelites out of Egypt and sent them to live among the nations so that the nations would know him as the one true God. God gives Israel an identity, a role, and a mission in the world. They are his delegates–the carriers of his message to the world. When they are unable to fulfill their purpose, God in his mercy sends Jesus to redeem his people and to restore their identity, role, and mission. Paul explains, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God we’re making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). We are his delegates intended to embody the message of forgiveness, love, and generosity.

The Old Testament commands us to tie the word of God as symbols on our hands and to bind them to our foreheads (Deut. 6:8). The New Testament instructs us to let the message of Christ dwell among us (Col. 3:16). What message are you embodying? Is the message of Christ being communicated through your life? Spend some time reflecting in prayer. Thank God, for you are a testimony of the redemption and restoration you have received through Christ Jesus. Confess to God the ways in which you have fallen short of communicating the message of Jesus Christ. Commit to being both mindful and intentional to embody the message of Jesus.

Written by Elaine May, Thriving Practices and Women’s Leadership Developer
Photo: Unsplash