Rev. Dan Turis, Covenant-First Presbyterian Church
For hundreds of years around the time of Christ, the Greek and Roman military forces used a particular boat style. The boat was called a Bireme or Trireme. A Bireme had two rows of rowers, and a Trireme had three rows of rowers, much like what would be familiar to a Viking ship. Where the rowers would be the chief means by which it got speed. It would be used to transport 60-180 soldiers across the sea. However, Triremes and Biremes also had the function of denting and caving hulls of opposing ships.
The ship would go 17 knots (close to 20 MPH) if it attained top speed. Coming with a reinforced keel and tip of the boat, it would pierce the side of enemy ships if everyone were rowing at full speed. Piercing the side of an enemy boat would require at least several enemy sailors’ attention, making the boat more susceptible to being overcome when boarded. The trireme was most vulnerable when it would not crack the ship’s hull. The Trireme’s rowers would become like sitting ducks to the archers of the enemy’s ship. So, it was essential to all involved that each rower accounted for his own weight on the ship. If it were too heavy without speed, it would get bogged down in the water and lose speed. The bottom was flat, allowing skimming to occur on top of the water. The rower was what made this boat a weapon. Ultimately, it was the rower that made the boat useful.
Paul referred to this type of rower in 1 Corinthians 4. The meaning of the word is “servant with power”. It is not simply a slave, which is another word entirely. The word used focuses on having power but needing to be able to control the power that is used. The power of this servant is to keep rowing. Of course, he could stop rowing, but that would mean his death. No, he gifts his power to the ship’s crew, for when that rower uses his gifts, he is rowing for himself and the whole crew. When he rows, he exerts himself until it hurts. When the boat gets to full ramming speed, it will ensure life. When we pull on the oars, we ensure the life of ourselves and the others in the boat.
I love the message of being a servant on the boat, giving all I have for the church, and knowing that when I am entirely bought in for the church, the church moves towards health. “Pull the oar” is what I would say to myself – and you.
The church is most healthy when everyone uses their gifts – time, talents, treasure, knowledge, service, energy, imagination, intelligence, and love – for the Kingdom’s good and its servants’ growth. Let the image of pulling the oar for the good of those around you and their continued relevance to the Kingdom of our Lord encourage you to exert beyond what you thought you could.