1 Corinthians 1:18–31 (NRSV)
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
(Cp Isa 29:14)
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
This week I have struggled with this passage. It was not because it is an incredibly difficult passage to understand, or because there is some interesting meaning behind the words that can be extracted. I struggle with this passage because it is one of the most straight forward passages in scripture. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
I spent time just sitting and contemplating this passage. I reflected on my life, my decisions, choices I have made, and at times when my phone buzzed with yet another Facebook debate I contemplated our nation. Some might say that I was just sitting there day dreaming, or wasting time because I was not going into a deep inductive bible study highlighting key words and all. I sat contemplating, I sat there letting God remind me of all the times I was relying on the wisdom of man and the times I relied on the wisdom of God.
For most of my life I would have regarded myself as smart, in grade school my classmates called me the scientist. They would draw characters of me in lab coats, wild Einstein type hair, and various chemistry paraphernalia. My classmates and I would design rockets that we hoped we would build some day, and we all could not hardly wait to get into junior high when they allowed us to dissect things. I was excited to learn and it seemed that they were too. Eventually we all grew apart as we got older, the things that we once dreamed about were transferred to other endeavors and the descriptive terms used also changed. But one thing remained the same, I still wanted to learn.
This was my life, even through college, some might say even today since I usually have at least one book handy to read wherever I go. Which is why I am thankful that eBooks were invented because my backpack could get heavy at times. I wanted to be smart and seen as smart.
What I often thought to be my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. As I sat contemplating my life and wisdom, I began to realize that I would often regard things I did not understand as being unimportant. If I could not explain something it did not matter or should not matter to anyone else. My vision progressively narrowed until there was no more room for the amazing wonder that I once experienced as a child. God revealed what it means when the wise are made foolish.
I then remembered decision in the past, directions that I had taken in life that were good and not. As I considered these things I began to see a pattern. One of the most ridiculous things I had ever done in my entire life, the least thought through event that I had ever participated in was the trip I took to Ukraine to teach English classes. I say that it was ridiculous because per the wisdom of man I was totally unqualified to go. I did not know Ukrainian, I barely knew proper English so how would I begin to relate to students of a completely different culture? Nothing in my rational brain, the one that I though was wise told me that yes, I should go. But there was this bit of foolishness within me that was sure that I was supposed to go. That trip changed my life. It took the quiet boy, the one who rarely spoke, and transformed him into a man willing to speak. I remember the first bible study I led in a conference room a large round table with a huge plant in the center and we studied Ephesians, and I lead one of the discussions. I came home that summer with a completely different perspective and direction of life.
I then remembered another decision. A decision where I weighed the options and in my own wisdom moved forward. Most these decisions sounded great on paper, I was qualified and I knew I could do the work, yet after making the decision I yearned to go back and quit because the choice was not at all what I envisioned it to be. The wise became foolish and what was perceived as foolish was wise.
I thought about these two things, one was a crazy decision that was very bold and not at all my normal activity and the other was a sound decision that I was sure would bring great benefit to my family. The difference came that one was prompted by God and the other by my wisdom. When I talk about these things to people, they look at me funny and ask me things like, “how would taking a job that paid substantially more money be a bad decision?” and “why on earth would you go across the world to teach English?” One of the most foolish things I had ever done in my life was enter ministry, my own mother told me, “You can’t preach, because you can’t talk.” Wisdom and foolishness. I must say that the foolish decisions that I have made with God have always be the right one, and rarely have the wise ones made on my own been a benefit.
Paul writes to the people of Corinth and says to them that their knowledge is growing, their influence is strengthening, but they often forget who they follow. Some follow Paul, others Apollos, still others Peter. They listen to these three, and they make decisions. Each of them have strengths and weaknesses. Peter was a disciple of Christ one of the twelve and part of the most inner circle of Christ’s friends. Paul was a great Pharisee that no one could match. Apollos was an eloquent speaker taught in the schools of Alexandria. People made decision on which to follow based on preference and human wisdom. The problem is being a Christian is foolish in the eyes of the world. They would follow Apollos because he made good arguments based on the systems of logic of the world. They would follow Peter because if Christ is king then the person you would want to be closest to would be the one closest to the king. Then there is Paul, a brilliant man who left a promising career to become a traveling minister of the gospel. And the gospel did not always make sense.
Why would it make sense? The story of God becoming an incarnate human to live among mankind is crazy. It cannot be explained through the disciplines of Greek Philosophy. That this incarnate human would then live through childhood, under the care and direction of a common craftsman made even less sense. And that this man would leave the family business to become a traveling teacher who would eventually lose his life for what he taught makes even less sense. Why would we follow such a person?
Why would we entrust all our hope in a story that seems so crazy? Why would we listen to a teacher who says, “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom?” When we all know that the poor do not have anything of value. Or, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” When we all know, we would not even think about voting the candidate who does not brag about themselves, we would not vote for them because they would never win, and if we were to vote for them then the worst might happen the other braggart might win. And how can we possibly follow someone who says crazy things like, “love your enemies and do good for those who persecute you.” When we all know, we must crush our enemies and force them to leave us alone.
It is foolish to follow Christ. Yet we do. I have thought about this as well. I have let it simmer in my mind. We follow even though it does not make sense. We follow because somehow those foolish people we once watched did not have the worst happen to them as we expected. In fact, even though things did not work out how they hoped they came out at the end somehow better than before. They may have been steamrolled by coworkers who took advantage of meekness yet they still were considered for a promotion. They might have gotten made fun or bullied by others at school, yet through their kindness many of these bullies became their friends. We watched others and when we asked them why, they told us Jesus. We thought that they had everything together so we considered it for ourselves.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
Consider your own call. It is interesting that Paul is encouraging the people of Corinth to participate in a discipline of prayer, something many call the prayer of examine. Reflect on your life, what has gotten you from where you once were to where you are now. How did you get here? I do not know your story but I know mine. I am here because of a woman who taught my Sunday school class, who saw me at my worst and loved me anyway. I am here because my mother and father did not judge me for actions I once took but encouraged me through those decisions to make better ones in the future. I am here because my grandfather calmly approached every trial of his life with simple words and a song. I am here today not because of my own wisdom or my own ambition but because of countless people showing kindness and encouraging me. Some of those people were what the world would call wise while others the world would call foolish. Some of those people had influence over others, but the majority were simply there when I needed them. None of them were famous, not even one of them ever would have been a pastor of a mega church (or would want to be if you asked them). Most were not even pastors, they were just people who followed Christ and because of them I am who I am today.
We may not have the influence or the money of some. We may not have the opportunities that we might wish to have. But we do have something that no one else has, we have the story of our lives. We may not have all the answers or a title that gives us authority over other, but we each have a witness of what the lifestyle of following Jesus has done for us. Many of us the world would not regard as wise even though we might want them to, but that is ok because what we do have is better. We have life in Christ who became the wisdom of God for us, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Though the trials come, thought the enemy knocks at the gates, and our bodies fail we have life in Christ. And when we seek him first in all we do, everything we really need falls into place. It might not be easy and it may not make sense but consider it. Consider the stories that brought you to this place, and consider the stories of your own life. We did not get here alone and if we are honest we did not get here because of ourselves. And we will not get to the future blessing God has for us trusting in the wisdom of man, we get there by listening to Him and being fools for Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:10–18 (NRSV)
Divisions in the Church
10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
(Cp Isa 29:14)
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Unity. It is a concept that most people want but very few seek. We would love to be united if every agrees with our position. This week has been one of the tensest in this regard that I have ever seen. Yet we are all crying for unity.
I too cry out for unity. We as people of Christ need unity today more than we have ever needed it before. We need unity because there are forces all around us pulling us away from the central message of Christ, distracting us to various ideologies. The problem with this is that the various sides are only speaking half-truths. When there is only a partial truth it also means that there is a partial lie. I want us to consider this. The world is crying for unity. The world is urging us to unite around what?
Division is the result of human sinfulness and pride. When our first parents chose to turn from the wisdom of God to trust in wisdom of mankind division entered the world. This division was seen when Adam cast blame on Eve for giving him the fruit, and was intensified in the lives of their children. Using the wisdom of man Cain offered a sacrifice that was unacceptable to God while Abel offered one that pleased the Lord. People have gone to great lengths explaining why Abel’s was proper and why Cain’s was rejected. They both brought offerings which in our day we would say was great, but Abel gave first, whereas Cain offered what was left after he took for himself.
This caused division between the brothers. Cain gave an offering shouldn’t that be enough? Half-truths. This division lead Cain into a jealous rage resulting in the violent shedding of blood and we have the story of the fist death. The very first recorded death of a human in history is the result of violence. This first act of violence created among humanity some interesting concepts: war, civilization, urban centers, and organized religion (which ended up becoming disorganized religions at Babel). All the things that the world is telling us to unite around are a result of godlessness, division, and selfish pride.
These divisive feelings run deep within our being. They have been instilled in us as children when we are reared to fear the perceived enemy. Nearly all of us view the people of Russia not as equals but as enemies. The generations prior to mine saw that a person’s race determined their value to a society. While reading the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer I was surprised to see that prior to the second World War, many outside the United States regarded us as simple and terrible people. Yet that is not the whole truth, many great things have come from our nation as well, probably the greatest technological advancements of humanity have come from the minds of our people. And we live in a nation where these minds are free to explore these ideas.
I mention these things only because we can become distracted by the half-truths the world throws at us. The people of Corinth in the first century were not that different in that regard. Corinth was a busy port city. They had a thriving economy, they had entertainment venues that rivaled every major city outside Rome, and they had a religious tourism market that brought people from across the empire. Right in the middle of this major city was the church; men and women who turned from the ways of the world and took on the lifestyle of Jesus Christ.
Paul praised the people of Corinth for their growth in knowledge and speech, as well the strengthening of their testimony of Christ. What this means is that they had taken on the lifestyle of Jesus; they made it their custom to join in worship to praise God and encourage one another through vocal ministries, they were entering a life of prayer where they were engaging scripture and deepening their relationship with God, and they were serving the people around them sharing the love of Christ in word and deed. Paul praised them because they were doing a lot right, yet today we begin reading in the tenth verse of the first chapter and Paul begins to show them that they are not perfect.
“Now I appeal to you,” Paul says. I earnestly plea, urge, and implore you. This is not merely something that Paul thinks would be better, this is something that is urgent an issue that has dire consequences if it is not heeded. What would cause Paul to speak in such a way to a group of people he just a few verses before gave praise to? Paul urges them in the name of Christ to be in agreement and to be united in the same mind and purpose, he urges them to terminate the divisions that have begun to form within the community. Paul ministered to these people, he began making disciples among them and now as their knowledge grow and their testimony is strengthening, at the base of that foundation cracks are forming because the worldly ideas that divide us have begun to enter the church.
Within the first years of the church there are already people fighting within the church, but what are they fighting about? The first thing I want to draw our attention to is who brought this to Paul’s attention, Chloe’s people. For all the disdain for Paul regarding his views of women, in one of his most well-known letters the first person he mentions is a woman’s congregation. One could argue that this is because she was the host of the gathering, but rarely does Paul mention people who are not leaders within the Church body, so Chloe is significant within this community, she is a leader of a congregation to the point that they are the people under her care. Chloe’s people reported to Paul that others among them are arguing about who they belong too, or for lack of better words who their bishop is. “I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos, I belong to Cephas, or I belong to Christ.”
I want us to notice something in this passage. These are all names; Chloe, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. These people are attaching themselves to a personality or celebrity. But who are they attaching themselves to and why does this matter? Paul writes in other letters that he was an emerging leader in among the Pharisees he went as far as saying that there was no one in his generation that was greater than him in knowledge or righteousness among the Pharisees he was the best in the class. Paul was from the City of Tarsus which is a city located in the South edge of modern day Turkey along the border of Syria. We know Paul because he is the most prolific writer of the New Testament. Apollos is one whom we do not know as much about.
We first meet Apollos in the City of Ephesus where he is boldly teaching among the Jewish people. He is teaching things that were taught by both Jesus and John the Baptist and even teaches baptism for the repentance of sins. A ministry couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were also in the city were impressed with him but also noticed that he did not know the entire story so they shared the full gospel of Jesus. There is a reason for Apollos’ ignorance because he was not from the province of Palestine but was from Alexandria. Alexandria was a center for learning and was the second largest Jewish community in the world, the largest outside of Israel at that time. They had knowledge of the various factions of Judaism so he had been aware of the newer teaching coming out of Jerusalem, but at that time they had not yet heard of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Apollos heard the gospel from this wife and husband team and embraced it with his whole heart. He left Ephesus going to Corinth where he became a great leader within the community of Christ.
Next, we have Cephas, who is also known to us as Peter. Peter was from Israel, a member of Jesus’ closest friends and was seen by most as being the leader of the Apostles. He was bold and from the sermon he gave in Jerusalem the Church grew by three thousand on its first day. So, we have a man from Tarsus, a man from Alexandria, and a man from Jerusalem. Each of these men came from Jewish center, one from the Holy City, the others from major settlements and educational centers for the exceled Jewish people. Each of these religious centers had various tradition, strengths and weaknesses.
Apollos spoke well to the more Hellenistic minded people. Paul spoke deeply to the rabbinical schools, and Peter was from the Holy City and was in the inner circle of Christ. The people of Corinth identified with these men, while others identified with Chloe, and others looked to Christ. They were dividing over personal preference and celebrity. And Paul urges them to stop immediately.
“Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The gospel of Christ is that the kingdom of God is at hand. The influence of Christ is all around us, if we are willing to see it. The Spirit of God is active all around and in us if we are willing to listen and heed its urgings. We can often be distracted by the things of this world, things that are very important but may only be speaking to half of the truth. But are we disciples of the trending news or are we disciples of Christ? Are we concerned with the things that concerned Jesus or are we focused on the things that concern the kingdoms of the world? Divisions are all around us but this is not what God wanted. Throughout scripture God was encouraging his people to be the people of inclusion not exclusion. Israel was to be the light of nations. The people of Israel were to treat the foreigner as an honored guest not as a person to be despised. The people of Israel were to be the haven of justice and mercy in a world of injustice and war. Yet that is not exactly how history was written. Division entered and along with it discrimination and pride. The people set apart to reflect the ways of God became just another nation of man. But God chose them through whom the redemption of the world would come.
Jesus came because God loved the world. And not wishing that anyone would perish He gave himself to take our place, and to bear our judgement. So, that whosoever believes in Him, whoever entrusts their entire life and lifestyle to him will have eternal life. Whoever takes on themselves the life and lifestyle of Jesus is the church. Whoever loves God in worship, embraces the Holy Spirit through prayer in the isolated places, and whoever lives the love of Jesus while serving others in word and deed. Whoever looks at those around them not as enemies but as bearer of the image of God. Whoever lives in the community using their talents and gifts for the mutual benefit or profit of the community while proclaiming Christ in every aspect of their lives.
We live in an era that is defined by division, but God is greater than our discriminations. We live in an era where we define the value of lives based on what ideology they hold, but God is greater than our politics. Justice is what God seeks more than sacrifice. Friendship is what God seeks more than enemies. Mercy is what God seeks more than winning an argument. Are we disciples of men or of Christ?
Willow Creek’s Meeting for Worship was again canceled over concerns for traveling safety. This was the thought that I would have shared.
1 Corinthians 1:1–9 (NRSV)
1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
For many in our society there is power in trends. They look at the trends in statistical analysis and they adjust their thinking around them. One could make the case that during the presidential election the statistical analysis was so accurate that many people decided to stay home instead of voting, in key states. The reason behind this phenomenon was that they did not need to take the time out of their day when the candidate with the greater majority was supposed win handedly. The reality is that statistics only measure trends, they only give a picture of reality and as with any picture there is more than meet the eye.
One trend that people speak about a great deal is the trend of church attendance. Nearly every publication has mentioned that churches across the country are losing members and that the next generation is becoming more nonreligious. This trend is one that can cause alarm. Yes this is a statistical trend that takes a picture of something within the portion of our society known as the church, but is this the reality? I do not think so in the slightest.
What the statistical analysis is measuring is something purely human. Attendance is down. When attendance is down many believe that the church is dying. The reality is that attendance of worship services is only one picture, there are factors that influence this statistic. This statistic really shows something else entirely. Our culture has shifted.
The fact that the culture shifted and that because of it church attendance has dwindled tells us something. Namely that the church had stopped teaching and living the gospel. The church has stopped requiring the living a godly life and has gladly accepted a nominal religious identity that does not translate into true life change. As a result when a generation comes that values authenticity of life and they do not believe what the church speaks they leave.
Those that fully reject God say this is a sign that religion is dead, but this is far from the truth. The church is probably stronger today than it has been for generations. How can I say that? I say that because we have a generation that does not seek to only speak, but a generation that seeks to live. The church, that followers of Christ will follow even if the culture rejects them.
I speak of this shift because in many ways the culture of Corinth in the first century has aspects that are reflected in that of ours. Corinth is a port town that is filled with various forms of entertainment, athletics, and religious participation. They had even made their religious activities correspond and support the other various entertainments in their culture. Sailors and traders would come into town after extended struggles in the Mediterranean to have their ships transported over the narrow strip of land to the other side because the seas in that area were treacherous and it was safer to unload the ship and transport the goods and the boat over land than to sail around the peninsula. The community played to these people, their religious observances focused on bringing safety and comfort to the sailors, and to ensure maximum participation in the observances they would have certain comforts that could be experienced for an appropriate donation. When they weren’t being religious they would like to pass the time by watching fights and other games in the arena. The culture revolved around entertainment, sensuality, and distraction. Corinth was in many ways the mecca of sensuality of the ancient world, like Bangkok, Las Vegas, or Amsterdam have the reputation of being today.
The culture was focused on the sensual; the desires and lusts of the flesh in many forms. It was a culture that was built on financial, spiritual, and sexual exploitation. Right in the middle of it all was an assembly of disciples who walked in the ways of Christ and not that of the pagans. I want us to just imagine the struggle that these people would have had. Many of the struggles we face today are similar. We have corporations around the world who seek locations where they can exploit their workers, making them virtual slaves where they are barely able to survive; they can afford to work and cannot afford to leave, living in poverty. At every college campus, there are predators roaming the lanes finding financially struggling students who they can convince to sell their bodies for money. True they can make a great deal of money but the emotional exploitation and abuse they endure lead the vast majority of these students into drug abuse, and many lose their self-worth cause many to find comfort in suicide. Most of these women though they may have earned money while they were young, live the rest of their lives in financial and emotional poverty. Then there are the athletes who sell their bodies to a game, trading all that they have for fame and fortune.
We live in a culture where entertainers are given more respect than educators, where a beautiful face and perfect body are given greater honor than character, where the ability to run and tackle are worth more than the ability to defuse a potentially threatening situation. This is our culture both inside and outside the church and we wonder why people leave the church.
Paul says to the people of Corinth, grace and peace to you. I wonder about this. You see in a world of exploitation grace is not something that occurs. Exploitation is the opposite of grace because in a world of exploitation the only thing that matters is yourself. As long as “I” get what “I” want, everyone else be damned. But grace is different. Grace is freely offering to someone else a kindness, for no other reason than because they are there. The do not deserve the kindness, they have not earned it, it is the antithesis of exploitation. To live by grace is to live in such a way as to be a blessing to others. Instead of “I” being our focus it instead becomes “Us” the relationship and the cooperative nature of a relationship becomes the driving force of life. I offer kindness to you even though you may not deserve it so that we can both live. Peace goes along with grace because peace can only occur when one side of an argument steps down and decides not to continue to fight. Peace is grace, it is where one side of the argument decides to lay down the weapons and decides to proceed without conflict. There is not peace in our culture. We are in a constant state of conflict, my entire lifetime our nation has been in conflict somewhere in the world. Most people have just given up on peace and have come to accept that violence is the only method of resolving our differences. It occurs in the streets of our cities and in the nations around the world.
As followers of Christ our focus should be on a different type of lifestyle. The lifestyle of Christ not of the world around us. In Christ’s kingdom grace and peace are the norm not the exception. The people of Corinth lived in a community that opposed very standards of Jesus’ holy lifestyle, yet they lived in grace and peace. This should cause us to pause for a moment and contemplate. These people lived in a culture that was antichrist yet they lived victoriously and the influence of Christ spread throughout the community. How can that be?
When our lifestyles turn from a self-centered focus to one that is more concerned with the mutual profit of a community something happens. When we use our talents and abilities to bring blessing and encouragement to others it is difficult to oppose. Many will say that this is socialism and will not work. I disagree, the holy lifestyle of Christ is one that is based on living a life of contentment. Paul says in his letters that he is content with plenty and in need, meaning he is living a sustainable lifestyle no matter the conditions. He lives this because to life is Christ and to die is gain as he wrote to the Philippian believers. When our lifestyle takes on the rhythm of worship, prayer and service to others we are not concerned with the same things that the world is concerned with. Our success is not determined by the same standards. Instead when we have plenty we share, when have little we realize that there are others that are also struggling so we do all we can to help even through the crisis.
Paul tell the people of Corinth that they have grown in speech and knowledge as well as having their testimony strengthened. These are profound statements. The first, that their knowledge and speech have been enriched means that they have taken on the disciplines of Christ. They have made it their custom to worship, this simply means that they have gathered together to be encouraged through praise and conversation, as well as having been feed by the spiritual food of scripture. But that is only one third of the life of devotion. The second aspect of Christ’s holy lifestyle is withdrawing often to the isolated places to pray. This is the area of discipline that I have found the most difficult and rewarding. Prayer is not just speaking our needs to God and hoping that he will grant our wishes. Prayer is a conversation with God. We participate in a lifestyle of prayer when we read scripture and sit to think about what they are saying to us. We participate in a lifestyle of prayer when we are listen, without speaking, to what is around us. Music can be a language of prayer, at times writing can as well. To live a life of prayer is to open ourselves up and listen for the voice of God. The early Friends established within their Meetings of Worship silence. This silence corporately encourages those in attendance to learn the discipline of prayer. It allows the scripture to speak to us so that we can then use those words to encourage others. It allows us time to release the burdens of our hearts from our grip so that they will no longer keep us from grasping the future God would lead us to. It gives us the opportunity to allow God to lead and teach us. The people of Corinth have shown to the world around them that they have grown in these areas. They have been seeking the Lord in prayer, and have been gathering together to worship and because of this they have more knowledge of the ways of God and can speak these things when the situation requires them to speak. But that is just two thirds of the holy lifestyle of Christ, the last part is included in the second statement that Paul gives, “just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you.”
The word testimony simply means witness. It is communicating and demonstrating what we believe or have observed. In the holy lifestyle of Christ that I speak often about this explained by living the love of Christ with others. It is putting into action the things that we have learned through worship and prayer. It is becoming the reflection of Christ in our communities. It is living a life of service to the kingdom of God. The people of the Corinthian church have been experiencing a strengthening of their testimony of Christ. They have been demonstrating a lifestyle that is different from the lifestyle of their culture and because of this the influence of Christ has expanded. They are authentic people whose lifestyle reflect the words that they speak.
Of course, we will find out that there is always room to improve when we continue to read this letter, but by in large they are living the lifestyle of Christ. This leads me to wonder, why it seems a generation of people are leaving the church? Maybe we have lost sight? Maybe they are not leaving the church but maybe the church has left them? The last statement that Paul makes in this opening section of his letter is, “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This last statement is powerful. We are not lacking, we have all that we need to do what he is calling us to do. And we will know what he is calling us to do if we remain focused on one thing, our Lord Jesus Christ. He will provide the strength for us to continue, he will provide the means for us to accomplish what needs to be done. We as the church must simply follow Him. Take on His lifestyle and live it out in every aspect of our lives.
Maybe the church has left them? Maybe we have taken our eyes from Christ and have placed them back onto ourselves and our institutions instead of keeping focused on the most important things. Maybe people no longer identify with Christ because the church itself no longer identifies with Christ. This is both frightening and encouraging because it means that our testimony our lives do have importance in our culture. So, as you consider this today are we allowing Christ to enrich our speech and knowledge, are we allowing Him to strengthen our testimony, and are we allowing Him to provide and strengthen us as we live for him? I pray that we will take on his holy lifestyle and become a people who are loving God in worship, embracing the holy spirit as we pray, and are reflecting and living the love of Christ as we work and serve others for our mutual profit.