The 2016 Rio Olympics closed on Sunday, bringing to an end our best national performance since the games began and instilling a great sense of national pride. Our athletes have come home with 67 medals – 27 of which were gold. It’s a huge achievement for all those involved.
One of the greatest victories of this games has to be Mo Farah’s triumphant performance in the 10,000m. We all know he is a running force to be reckoned with, but what made this win even more incredible was that he fell mid race. Not a little stumble or a misstep, but face down on the track as the other runners carried on around him. It made for nerve-wracking viewing as his hopes of a medal seemed to drift away on the tropical breeze.
And yet, he got up and kept running, going on to win the gold!
No one likes trials or challenges: those things in life that sneak up from behind and trip us up or, sometimes, come right up and hit us in the face.
We don’t enjoy falling or failing. We fear others looking on, whispering to one another, ‘another one bites the dust’. But, just as training developed in Mo a perseverance, so that when it really needed to count he was hardwired to get up and keep running, and even win, so the Bible encourages us as Christians to do the same.
James 1:2 tells us to consider it ‘pure joy’ when we face trials, because this develops a perseverance in our faith like nothing else can. Such a determined faith helps us to be ‘mature and complete, not lacking anything’.
What James encourages is not easy, especially in our culture of ‘quick fixes’, but I do believe it’s worth it. In my own life, I can see that the very trials that made me fall and feel like I was biting the dust were the ones which (after struggling to get back up and keep running) have shaped me and brought me personal victories and breakthroughs I would not otherwise have seen.
Whether it’s a challenging job, troublesome children or difficult patients, whatever trial you are in right now and however many times you fall, I’d encouraged you, with God’s help, to get up and keep running towards the one who will take you on to victory even greater than a gold medal.
Rachel became a solicitor earlier this year – and she is still reeling at God’s faithfulness in getting her to this point! She lives and works in Manchester but daydreams about travelling the world.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Paul will come on to how we live with outsiders to the Christian faith – and those of us who are mission-minded might be eager for him to do so – but he doesn’t rush there. He insists we hear first that central to our life in Christ is how we love one another in the body of Christ.
That’s where he begins this section – ‘love must be sincere’. What that love looks like is then unpacked in one long sentence.
Grammar aficionados might be interested to know that Paul uses participles where most English versions translate with commands. Here’s an approximation: ‘Love is genuine, hating the evil, clinging to the good, devoted to one another in love, outdoing one another in showing honour, not lacking in zeal, being fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, being patient in affliction, persevering in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practising hospitality.’ To be sure, Paul wants Christians to do those things, but they’re expressed in a way which describes a character to be cultivated not merely commands to be carried out.
As elsewhere in Romans 12, hearing what Paul says through the ears of those in first-century Rome brings home the radical implications of belonging to the new humanity God has brought together in Christ. To take just one example, in a culture where giving and receiving honour was a central driver, a master honouring a slave above himself would be a strong signal that a completely different set of values was at work in this community. The principle remains just as potent today. In a world where race, gender, age, wealth, and status often either bring privilege or deny access, Christians model a different way of living.
Not that it’s easy to do so! But Paul is gratifyingly realistic in his assumptions about what the Christian community will look like. Yes, we will find it difficult to outdo one another in showing honour; yes, suffering will come; yes, there will be needs to be met. But it will still be possible to serve the Lord, to rejoice, to be patient, and to persevere in prayer.
In doing so, we will display to each other – and perhaps to a watching world – that what God has begun to do in the church stands at the heart of his reconciling work which will one day be extended to all things.
Yesterday saw the annual discharge of A Level grades to around 300,000 young people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (the Scottish Highers system gave its youth a nine-day head start). Two years of battling with Biology, grappling with German, and skirmishing with Statistics: distilled into letters that open or close doors to the future.
A system that boils academic achievements down into an unsubtle and unsympathetic string of letters is disconcerting for many young people, as well as many parents. We read press stories about the damaging psychological impact created by a weight of expectation to achieve required grades. We can be thankful for educational and training organisations, and employers, who look at young people through different lenses, and who nurture their potential along more diverse paths.
However the ‘A Level Results Day Experience’ undeniably gives young people a foretaste of what to expect when the scene shifts around them, from the 3Rs of Education to the 3Rs of the Workplace (Rate, Rank and Reward). Thirty years after receiving my own A Level grades, I still receive a rating that is meant to encapsulate my performance at work each year. The tendency to bundle complexity into a neatly labelled package, and to create identity via grades or ratings, is an inescapable feature of our workplaces.
Despite any misgivings about the system, the simplicity and clarity of A Level grades can challenge our apprehensions about the overwhelming complexity of modern life. We are reminded that some of the most profound and life-transforming biblical descriptions of our identity are disarmingly simple: ‘child of God’; ‘raised with Christ’; ‘set free from sin’. Some of Christ’s deepest truths, about himself and about us, are concise enough to be written down on an A Level results-sized slip of paper.
So why not try this summer holiday game: turn your (or your child’s/relative’s/friend’s) A Level grades into an acronym that reminds us of our identity, beyond the grade label. In this way, B,B,C becomes Beloved By Christ; D,C becomes Divinely Created; even F,F can become Forever Forgiven (yes, there’s hope…). If you like the game, the great thing about it is that, if you pass Level 1 this week, you can move up to Level 2 next week when the GCSE results come out.
Nick is an HR consultant, and a parent
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
By the oversight of the Holy Spirit, while Romans was written for us, it wasn’t written to us. As Peter Oakes invites us to imagine in Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul’s Letter at Ground Level, it was written to Holconius the craftworker and the Christians who gathered in his workshop every Sunday. How would it have been heard by them?
Almost certainly, as residents of the Greco-Roman world of the first century, they would be familiar with the use of ‘body’ as a metaphor for harmony and cooperation. Except that where the analogy was used to call the commoners to work for the good of the senators or the state, here those who are gifted work for the good of the whole body – and all are gifted.
A body where ‘each member belongs to all the others’, where a householder and a slave are equally interdependent, would undermine the status system of first-century Rome. Centuries later, whenever we’re tempted to feel superior to fellow members in the body of Christ, it still does. How could it be otherwise when the different gifts flow from God’s grace to each of us and are given for the good of the whole body?
The similarities and differences with other lists of gifts in Paul’s letters suggests it’s not intended to be a complete catalogue. Of the ones mentioned here, several of them have to do with the practical assistance of those in need. While some would be exercised during the time of meeting, others would be more applicable outside that context. All of them are concerned with our responsibility to one another, and are to be exercised with diligence and passion. None of them require calling to a special office.
The overall picture is of a community marked by the inspired disclosure of God’s word, a wellbeing that comes from service, teaching that builds people up, encouragement which helps fellow believers live out their obedience to Jesus, sharing generously with those in need, which is led diligently and well, characterised by a cheerful mercy that imitates God himself.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
It would be all too easy to bemoan how we fail to live up to that picture rather than ask instead how we might contribute to it, how we too might belong to the body of Christ.
British high streets and out-of-town shopping centres have reached the end of an era. By the end of this month, all 164 stores of the retail giant BHS, founded in 1928 by US entrepreneurs, will have closed their doors for the last time and around 11,000 employees will be facing an uncertain future. Two official reports lay the blame squarely at the feet of the business’ former owner, Sir Philip Green, the most recent of which labels him ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’.
Such a stinging indictment raises a question: what is capitalism’s acceptable face? Ever since Karl Marx made ‘capital’ central to his economic critique, many have argued that there is nothing acceptable about capitalism because it is a system based on exploitation and avarice. For them, business leaders like Sir Philip represent not the unacceptable face but the true face of capitalism.
Some of those who argue that capitalism is based on greed embrace capitalism for this very reason. They find inspiration for their ‘greed is good’ hypothesis in the figure of Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street, and in the writings both of Adam Smith (1723-1790) and of the Russian-born philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982). Her belief that capitalism is based on radical individualism fuelled her endorsement of it, as reflected in the title of her book The Virtue of Selfishness. As with Smith, Rand is a complex and ambiguous thinker. Yet her aversion to the misery-inducing collectivism of her mother country drove her to portray and embrace a Gekko-like caricature of capitalism.
Rejecting both these extremes, many thought-leaders now avoid the term ‘capitalism’ altogether, despite the language used in the second BHS report. Others have sought to moderate the term by juxtaposing adjectives like ‘compassionate’, ‘conscious’, ‘responsible’, ‘enlightened’, ‘social’ or ‘sustainable’ before the word ‘capitalism’. While all these composite ‘isms’ have deficiencies, they ought not to be dismissed as self-contradictory.
Each of them mirror the fact that exchanges of economic value take place in a relational context and depend on a moral code. That is why, when business leaders enrich themselves at the expense of those who are vital in the creation of that wealth, trust and profits eventually plunge. The public shaming of such individuals, when justified, suggests that the dignity of the human person is crucial to acceptable economic behaviour – to business with a human face.
Dr Peter Heslam is an academic at the University of Cambridge and is the director of Transforming Business
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