Devotional - God's Work, Man's Work

Where is the wise?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the disputer of this world?  Hath not God made the foolish the wisdom of this world?  1 Cor 1:20
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?  I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.  For we are labourers together with God; ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereupon.  For other foundation can no man lay than is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 3:5-7; 9-11

The story is told of the city slicker who visited the old farmer, admiring his productive fields, the rolling hills, verdant meadows, and refreshing ponds.  A man of religious inclination, he said to the farmer: “Isn’t it wonderful what you and God have made here?” To which the farmer, after a long and thoughtful pause, replied, “You should’ve seen it when God had it by himself.”

The story illustrates a reality, and presses a question.

The reality is that there is an aspect of God’s order which calls upon us as his creation to be responsible stewards, to be creative, to excel, to, as some have put it, be vice-regents under God for creation.  Indeed, there are many Scriptures which call on us to be faithful workers, laborers and stewards. In Jesus’ parable of the stewards he praises those managers who expanded the owner’s resources, and is quite distressed at those who merely protected the corpus.

And yet at the same time there are clear biblical principles, as illustrated in the noted text, that warn us of the folly of human effort and wisdom.  We are reminded of the dangers of pride, wealth, even success. To think “I have done it,” is the kind of arrogance, even idolatry, that is at the core of sin.  Even we ourselves are often not fooled by our pretensions, and sense the futility and triviality of so much of our earnest endeavors.

How are we to put those twin themes together — of recognizing the call to faithful and productive service, using the gifts and callings we have, and yet avoiding the illusions and corruption of supposed power, accomplishment.

The text in Corinthians give us at least one reference point.  A key is a recognition that God indeed uses our efforts — in the words of I Cor. 4:5ff, we are “waterers, planters.”  We have a calling, a duty — and, in one sense, we are indispensable. Our storied farmer was right in noting the contribution he had made to the beauty of the farm.

And yet the Corinthian letter reminds us that our efforts, seen with spiritual eyes, are only facilitative.  “It is God who gives the increase,” or in the words of v. 9: “We are laborers together with God.” (KJV)

The same point is made clear in v. 10 where Paul can refer to himself as, in the grace of God, a “wise master builder.”  But in v. 10, we understand that if this master builder builds on the wrong foundation, — “take heed.”

Thus, the biblical word is not that we can do nothing.  Indeed, perhaps part of the imago Dei in us is the ability to achieve, create — but unless what we do is first, built on a proper foundation, it is nothing; and second, that it must be “with God” — not in some “I am the master of my own fate” deadly illusion.

Lynn R. Buzzard

L. Buzzard, Week 1: God’s Word, Man’s Work, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 8-9 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).

Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.

Lynn R. Buzzard, Director of Legal Education and Of Counsel

Prof. Buzzard is a graduate of Duke University, DePaul School of Law, and Duke Divinity School.  Currently he is a professor at Campbell University School of Law.

Internationally he has had a long-term engagement with lawyers, courts and NGOs on global issues including judicial independence, religious liberty, refugee and asylum issues. His involvements over a 35-year span have included cases, conferences, teaching and advocacy in a wide range of contexts including China, Russia, Mongolia, Armenia, Albania, Ecuador, Korea, and Georgia.

With his background in theological studies and ministry with churches and religious NGOs, he has written five books and a series of monographs on issues of nonprofit church and state law, religious liberty, church law and policy, and church incorporation issues. He served for 10 years as the Editor of the Religious Freedom Reporter.

Before joining the Campbell Law faculty in 1985, he served for 15 years as the first Executive Director of the Christian Legal Society, a national organization of lawyers and its advocacy arm, the Center for Law and Religious Freedom. He has been active in Advocates International, serving as Chairman of the Board overseeing a global network of lawyers addressing issues of judicial independence, peace-making, rule of law and religious liberty through networks in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. During a sabbatical at Campbell, he was recruited to be the founding Dean of the Handong International Law School in South Korea, a graduate, American-style law school with an international curriculum and student body, and served for several years as Dean. Handong and Campbell developed cooperative study programs and student exchanges. Recent engagements include serving on the Peace and Justice Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.