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06 January 2017

New year, new me

New year, new me

Gavin Calver is director of mission at the Evangelical Alliance.

I love the start of a new year. With it comes hope, dreams and resolutions. Many of these will already have been broken and new gym memberships may soon be a wasted direct debit, but nonetheless the start of 2017 gives us all a chance to think about what we want to do differently.   

As the prime minister said in her New Year address, we are at a time of reflecting what's go on and looking ahead to the opportunities that are ahead. For the UK this will mean finding ways to move forward after a divisive 2016 and working hard to lay good plans for the future.

For me, I want this year to really count and so I'm setting out to try and be a Christian who cares about what matters to Jesus. In looking for a biblical example of how to do this, I'm drawn to Epaphroditus. Despite only appearing in five verses (Philippians 2:25-30), he's described by theologians as a "balanced Christian". This is quite an accolade and manifests itself in four ways; he's faithful as a brother (verse 25), a messenger (verse 25) and a servant (verse 25); but most importantly for me, he's a risk taker (verse 30). 

The Greek verb paraboleuomai occurs only here in the New Testament as it describes Epaphroditus' risk-taking. Elsewhere in culture it was used as a gambling term. The idea of the word is that you are prepared to put everything on the table to go 'all in', risking all you are. Alec Motyer, in his book The Richness of Christ, puts it this way: "He took a calculated risk, involving the expenditure of all he had, relying only on the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. He staked all on Jesus, knowing that he could not fail."

In the early Church there was a group of people who called themselves The Parabolani, in reference to the word parabouleuomai. They were men and women who risked themselves for the sake of Christ. They agreed together to move into any place of danger or risk, to serve and help others. Whenever anyone was sick with a dangerous disease, they would go and minister to them. When they learned of criminals in dungeons, they would risk their lives to help them. They would send evangelists into leper colonies because how else would lepers hear the gospel? This was a death sentence because they would not be allowed out of the colony once they had gone in. This group became infamous for their risky approach to life, they would go anywhere to share Christ – whatever the cost.

So starting out in 2017 what kind of Christians do we want to be here in the UK? 

Let's set out to be balanced Christians who are faithful to Jesus throughout our lives, who carry a clear gospel message, who serve others beyond what seems reasonable and who take calculated risks for Jesus. 

What's stopping us? Probably fear: of what others think, of being ostracised, of offending people, of not fitting in, of the cost, of being rejected, of setting the bar too high, of rocking the boat too much, of being counter-cultural, of losing our credibility or maybe of standing out too much. 

Sounds a little like all Christ risked for us! Let's pray that Christ is with us and that our fears don't cripple us. We want to see the nation changed and the start of a new year is a perfect excuse for a more intentional resolve in this. 

As it said on a t-shirt my brother wore growing up: "Don't let your fears stand in the way of your dreams."

Image: CC Alex Wong