Three gospel shaped values: truthfulness, graciousness, faithfulness
I’m reading TerryLeahy’s book about his time heading up Tesco.
He writes about 10 words that sum up management.
One of those words is ‘values’. He argues that if any organisation is going to work well, then those who work for it need to have shared values.
So he got everyone together, from all levels of the company, so that they could come up with the sort of values that they considered important.
Understand customers better than anyone.
Be energetic, be innovative and be first for customers.
Use our strengths to deliver unbeatable value to our customers.
Look after our people so that they can look after our customers.
‘Treat people how we like to be treated’:
All retailers, there’s one team . . . The Tesco Team.
Trust and respect each other.
Strive to do our very best.
Give support to each other and praise more than criticise.
Ask more than tell and share knowledge so that it can be used.
Enjoy work, celebrate success and learn from experience.
They are good values. Many of them come from the bible. Whether they are put into practice, I leave for you to decide!
But it did get me thinking.
What are our values – and where do our values come from?
I mean if anybody should do values, it should be us.
We think of the many lists of values that we find in the New Testament:
For instance Colossians 3:12ff, ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other .. and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’
Paul is saying: be kind, be humble, think more of the other than yourself, be patient with each other, forgive one another, and show love.
And just as Tesco values flow from the business of Tesco: selling branflakes and toasters; so Christian values flow from what Christians are all about: the proclaiming of the message of Jesus Christ.
We see that in our verses from 1 Corinthians 15.
Paul first reminds us what the gospel message is:
‘Now I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand and by which you are being saved .. that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared ...’
We are gospel churches. We are in the business of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Our task is to declare the message that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who lived among us as a human being. It is to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the reality of God’s love, judgement and forgiveness, the coming kingdom of God and the defeat of death. It is to announce that, for those who put their trust in him, there is the possibility of changing lives and hearts now so that we can begin to love God and love our neighbour.
This is the business of the church. And it seems to me that there are three values which flow from our business.
We need to be people who speak the truth.
The gospel is about truth – a truth that had been transmitted to Paul by the people who were actually there with Jesus, who saw what he did and who witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection.
And Paul stresses the truth of what he passes on. Yes, it is unbelievable, but the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, to the 12, to 500 and to James. And Paul says, writing about 15 years after the events, ‘most of these people are still alive’. You can ask them.
And later, in 1 Corinthians 15:15, Paul writes that if Christ is not raised from the dead, ‘we are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is not true that the dead are not raised.’
We are people who proclaim a gospel that is true, based on what people actually saw.
We do not need to be scared of the truth.
And if we proclaim a gospel that is true, we must be people of truth. Ephesians 6 speaks of the armour of the Christian: the first piece of equipment is ‘the belt of truth’. (Ephesians 6:14).
We need to be honest about ourselves. We need integrity. That is what being ‘pure in heart’ is. It is about being sincere (literally, from the Latin, ‘without wax’ – the custom of Roman sculptures to use wax to repair part of sculpture that has gone wrong).
It does not mean that we need to be right or perfect. It does not mean that we always need to make the right decisions. Far from it. It means that we need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves – the reality of our failure, our weakness, our disappointments.
That is why the bedrock prayer that I pray is the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’.
If you are looking for a perfect minister, I am not your man. John Stott was once introduced to an audience in particularly glowing terms. He was reputed to have said, ‘Thank you for that, but if you could look into my heart, you would want to spit in my face’.
We need to be honest about the church: the encouragements and discouragements. The fact that our electoral roll is now less than it was in 2007, although the total figure for all our congregations is about the same size. But equally the fact that people’s giving has increased significantly since then, and that our giving away has increased significantly.
It is when we face up to the facts that we can begin to analyse what is going on and use some of our God given wisdom to work out how we should go forward.
We need to be honest about the answers to prayer that we have seen – for people who have become Christians, for new initiatives, for financial provision, for people considering taking another step in their Christian faith, for those times when God has spoken to us very clearly, for healings and wonderful deliverances.
But we also need to be honest about the long periods when God seems absent, or when our prayers never seem to be answered. The previous pope spoke, before his retirement, about how, at times, he really did wonder what God was doing. Some people might question that: he is undermining faith in God. But I don’t think so: he is not saying that God is not there. He is simply saying that we don’t understand the ways of God – and that is true.
I’m not suggesting that we splurge out our doubts – because the only thing I do when I speak of my doubts is to tell others that I have doubts.
And we need to be truthful with each other. ‘Speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) – in other words we speak what is true to another in order to build them up and not to destroy them, to help them grow into the person God calls them to be. We need to put away falsehood, and speak the truth because, says Paul, we are members of one another (Ephesians 4:25).
Someone told me this week how much I had hurt them and that they felt let down. They told me in love – but it was still painful. Painful for me and painful for them. But it was right. I needed to know.
The reason why truthfulness has to be one of our core values is because we are God’s heralds. God is absolutely true – there is nothing false, nothing two-faced. He is completely reliable. If he says something he will keep his word. But also, we need to be truthful because the gospel is true.
And if we are to be gospel – good news – people, then we need to speak the truth.
I am conscious, having spoken all of this, that most of us, and I include myself in this, tell lies. We tell lies, usually little lies, because we get scared of what will happen, or what people will think of us, if the truth is told. And so if, as I’ve been speaking, you have become conscious of lies that we have told or that we know that we are living, we really do need to seek God’s strength to be truthful, even if it means saying sorry and facing some of the consequences.
But don’t try to do this on your own. You can’t. As you come to communion later, ask God for his Holy Spirit to be poured into your hearts. He is the Holy Spirit of love and love, we are told, ‘rejoices with the truth’ (1 Corinthians 13:6).
The gospel of Jesus Christ is based on the truth that he really lived and he died and rose again from the dead.
That is one of the reasons why truth is important in a church whose business is the gospel.
The gospel is all about grace.
We see that here: ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’ (1 Cor 15:10)
Many people think that in order to become a Christian, we need to clean up our life and then invite Jesus in. In other words, we need to become a little bit righteous and then God will come in and do the rest in us.
But that is not how it was with Paul. He was in a bad place. He hated Jesus Christ; he persecuted Christ-followers. And it was while he was on his way to put some of them into prison that God appeared to him.
He was dead to God and God gave him life.
He was blind to God and God opened his eyes.
And God called Paul to be his preacher, to take the message to all nations, because God wanted someone who knew here that it is all about grace. It is all about God giving us what we do not deserve.
We are people who are saved by grace, and we are therefore called to live by grace.
We are not here by merit. We are here by gift.
So I would hope that grace and graciousness would be a significant value in a church whose business is the gospel.
Graciousness welcomes all people. It does not say, ‘You are only welcome if you fit in, if you are up to the grade, if you become like one of us’.
James, in his letter, tells us that we are to treat every person who walks into our meetings in the same way. We are not to give preferential treatment to the one who is wealthy, or ask the one who is obviously poor to sit at the back.
Graciousness kisses Mary. Mary was a lady in the church that John Pearce was vicar of in Hackney. She was a bag lady, and she was called by the local children, not without reason, ‘Smelly Nelly’. She stank.
Mary would occasionally turn up at church and sit in the back pew. I would say, ‘hello Mary’ but move on quite fast. I remember on one occasion I came into church and saw Mary. She smelt of urine and she looked bad; her skin on her face was blotchy and scabby. I said ‘hello’ and walked on. But then I saw Annette come into church. She saw Mary, went straight up to her and said ‘Mary how lovely to see you’, and then she bent down and kissed her on the cheek. Graciousness kisses Mary.
And we need open doors. One of my pet hates are churches with closed doors, particularly when a service is going on. My father tells of a service he visited last year in Afghanistan. It was in an upper room and they did lock the door. It was a bit scary. But we are not in Afghanistan. We are in Bury St Edmunds! When we shut the doors, we are living as pre-Pentecost Christians: the disciples knew that Jesus was alive but still locked the doors because they were afraid. We usually close our church doors to keep the heat in, but I wonder also whether there is a little bit of the desire to keep disruption out!
A couple of weeks ago I was at the back of St Peter’s when the inner doors opened wide – they were blown by the wind. The poor warden didn’t know what to do did and shut the outer door. He whispered to me as he went past, ‘I hate shutting the door’. But I think that there is a little parable there. If we are to prepared to allow the the wind of the Spirit to blow, we need to open the doors of our lives – and if the Spirit does blow there will be no doors that can keep him out.
Graciousness allows other people to fail because it realises that we ourselves have failed. If a person messes up – well, we are no different. We have messed up. Mercy has been shown to us – we show that mercy to others. We have been accepted even though we are quite clearly not acceptable. We therefore accept others, whoever they are.
Graciousness helps another person when they are in need. A person is coughing during the anthem: we don’t tut, turn round and stare at them, but we get up and bring them a glass of water. And graciousness bears with children running around and making a noise in the church. I know that children need to learn that some places are special and need to be treated differently, but they are not there yet (and nor are their parents). Graciousness does not mean we don’t say anything and then grumble. Graciousness means that we do say something, but we do it with gentleness.
And graciousness welcomes those who we (or others) define as sinners. I’ve said this before: I long to see gay couples in our churches. It is one of my deepest regrets that a couple living in a gay relationship felt that they had to leave our churches. I fear that people hear about the very strong stand we take on marriage here and run a mile. Now please do not get me wrong. I do believe that the place for sexual intimacy is exclusively in marriage between man and woman, and I will teach that in the appropriate place, but I do not think we should make it a condition for people walking in through the door. I guess we need to have the attitude of a parent whose child is in a sexually active gay relationship. We may be upset; we may not approve, but our child remains our child and is still always welcome at home. I long that our churches are places which are welcoming to all.
I do appreciate that it is very hard to get the right balance between grace and truth. Jesus Christ managed to hold the two together; he was full of grace and truth. But we struggle. We find churches that are big on truth and not very big on grace. We find churches that are big on grace but have very little idea of what they stand for. My prayer is that we will grow in grace and truth.
The more we realise just how sinful we are, and the extent of God’s love in sending Christ to die for me; the more that we can say with Paul that I am the worst of sinners, but am also forgiven; the more I realise how little I deserve the Holy Spirit and the hope of resurrection, the more I can be gracious to others.
That is why a church whose business is the gospel will value graciousness.
Truth, grace and faithfulness.
Faithfulness in believing (1 Corinthians 15:2): we are called to hold firm to the message about Jesus Christ
But also faithfulness to God and faithfulness to others in what we do.
Paul states that it is the grace of God which took him, a persecutor of the church, and made him into someone who worked hard – really hard – for God and for people, in being a preacher of the gospel. He says, ‘I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was within me’ (1 Corinthians 15:10).
2 Corinthians 4:13-15, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke”, we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
The message of the gospel is good news.
The more that we realise what good news it is, the harder that we will work to proclaim it.
Branflakes and toasters are great. I have my branflakes and sultanas every morning. And I love my toast and marmalade. If I’m selling branflakes and microwaves, then my values will be shaped by what I am doing. I will wish to give people the best service at the cheapest price. And because a happy workforce is a good workforce I will strive to make them happy. And I will work hard, because that will increase the profits, and I can pay the shareholders more, the employees more and myself more.
But we are not in the business of selling branflakes and toasters.
We have something so much more precious to proclaim. It is about Jesus Christ who loved us and gave his life for us; it is about the one from whom and for whom everything exists (it is all gift from God, and ultimately it is all for the glory of God); it is about the restoring of a relationship with God, that you can know God as your friend; it is about forgiveness and peace; it is about how God can take the absolute worst and transform them/us into his son or daughter, sharing in his very nature, a citizen of the kingdom of God and an heir of heaven; it is about resurrection.
It is as if we have been given a rich source of precious jewels. Each of them is worth millions. And the owner, who has given them to us, has told us – in turn - to give them away completely free of charge. All we need to do is to come out of ourselves and to go up to people and say, ‘Would you like it?’
Many will say ‘No. I don’t need it’. Some will look at us and say, ‘This is too good to be true. It can’t be real’. Others, who are to trying to sell fake diamonds at extortionate prices, will hate us. But there are some who will receive what we are offering. There will be joy for them and joy for us.
The more that we come to realise just how wonderful the One is who has given us this message, who has given us Jesus, and the more we realise just how wonderful it is, the harder we will choose to work. We will be faithful to the one who loves us, called us, saved us and is glorifying us.
My prayer is that we will be a church whose business is the gospel – and as a result, that we will be marked with these three simple values: truthfulness, graciousness and faithfulness.