by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are coming towards the end of our sermon series The Wisdom of God with the grand finale next week with the Transfiguration. For the last several weeks we have been hanging out with the Apostle Paul and the Corinthians, reading their mail from about the year 55 AD. We’ve learned a few things as we’ve gotten to know them better.
One, we have learned that Paul loves the people of this church. He has a special affinity for them, despite the fact that they’ve gotten some of his teachings a bit muddled and confused as they tried to merge it with what they heard from other teachers since he moved from Corinth. He doesn’t give up on them. Even with all of their issues, he still thinks of them as saints, people being made holy. The wisdom of the world would say to cut them loose. Don’t bother. They aren’t worth the trouble, but Paul knows that they were called on a journey to be saints. We all are. The Holy Spirit guides us on that journey.
Next, we learned that despite being in a culture where worldly wisdom and impressive oratorical skills were highly revered, Paul did not come to these people with fancy rhetorical speech. He kept to the basics. In Corinth, instead of going to the movies or a concert, people often when to listen to one of the traveling philosophers. As Paul knew he couldn’t compete with that, he knew it must have been the Spirit that convinced them of the truth of the gospel. This preposterous idea that the all-powerful God that created the universe, came as a poor human to sacrifice himself to save humanity, allowed himself to be killed in the most humiliating way. And resurrection? Forget about it. Yet, Jesus had hundreds of witnesses (beyond the twelve, his best friends).
Then, we learned that the Corinthians had been taught about God and the gospel in Jesus Christ, the basics by Paul and perhaps more eloquently expressed by Apollos. Even though they were called on a journey to be saints, they hadn’t progressed very far. Yes, Paul taught them the basics, the elementary elements of the ways of Jesus Christ, but they proved by their behavior that they weren’t ready for more. Paul said that they remained such babies in Christ that he could only give them milk. They weren’t mature enough for solid food. We talked about how some people never get any further on the journey than that, but it is our responsibility to move forward too.
This week, we finish 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul concludes this part of the letter.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 NIV
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
I encountered this Scripture in several different contexts this week, in meetings and gatherings in addition to preparing for today. The power of it always gives me chills. “… all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Cor 3: 22c-23) We begin with this foundation that Paul talks of, this foundation that he started with when he first came to Corinth, the foundation that our lives with God starts with, Jesus Christ. Paul is building something, a Temple. This is not a Temple of bricks and mortar, or even of fine marble, gold, and silver. This Temple is the church, the assembly. He says, “Don’t you know that y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all’s midst?” (1 Cor 3:16)
Yes, I said it, “y’all.” When Paul refers to the Holy Spirit living within you here in this passage, he really means y’all (or all of you). The word is second person plural. Contemporary English is very limiting in this way by not having a distinct second person plural. While the Holy Spirit is with each of us, transforming us, guiding us on our journey to be made holy, we as the assembly are a Temple of God with the Holy Spirit in our midst.
We come to events. We come together in ministry and mission. We come to worship. We praise God. We sing. We pray. We listen to God’s Word. Do we think of the Holy Spirit being in our midst, right here, right now? God is with us. As this group we are God’s Temple. If we remembered this how would it change the way we approach things? We are here today to worship the Living God, who is here in our midst. “[We] are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Cor 3:23) Do you feel a new surge of energy flowing through you? I do.
We are sacred. We are holy, even with our imperfections and troubles (or maybe that’s just me). We all have the Holy Spirit with us, and we have a sacred responsibility on our journey as saints.
Paul invites the Corinthians and us to remember who we really are and to whom we really belong. We’ve talked before about how many of the Corinthians had separated themselves into different camps following different leaders and teachers, whom they had actually seen or heard about. Some were in the Paul camp, others with Apollos, some with Peter, and there may have been more. This was very in keeping with the Greek custom where wisdom teachers and sophists who in effect “owned” the people who followed them. The Corinthians were doing the same kind of thing with their Christian teachers, but Paul tells them that they have the whole relationship the wrong around. Not only were they not the possession of their teachers, as fellow servants of God, their teachers, all of the teachers, actually belong to them! (NT Wright 41) “No more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours.” (1 Cor 3:21)
So, who are we, and to whom do we belong? Before Christ, we made up of tiny bits of matter. The Bible says we are formed from the dust of the ground or dirt (Gen 2:7). Modern science would say that we’re made up of atoms and molecules, little bits of stuff, the same kind of stuff we might find laying on the ground. Not really that different is it? Before Christ we were dead in our trespasses, our sins, our mistakes. We were slaves to sin. We were trapped in the system that taught us that these things were good, what we should want, do, and be. Christ redeemed us, bought us from sin, saved us from our just penalty. With that payment we belong to Christ, and he has set us free. As he says in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” With that freeing act of Christ an extraordinary transformation takes place. We become co-heirs with Christ, adopted children of God. This sounds ridiculous on its face, but it is part of the Wisdom of God.
We are not saved by anything we’ve done, nor can we do enough to earn our redemption, our salvation. God gives it to us as a free gift. God even gives us the ability to believe it by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 2:13-14)
As Paul says in his letter to the Church of Rome, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)
What kind of worldly logic is this? It isn’t, but it is perfectly logical in the economy of God. It is the Wisdom of God. God did it when we were unworthy, so that we might become worthy through him.
What is the difference between Christianity and other major world religions? I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.
“During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
“After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.” (Philip Yancey 45)
Christianity declares God’s love for us before we are even capable of acknowledging it. We are then transformed through this relationship. We get it ALL before we have done a thing. How does this make any sense in a world where you’re supposed to work for and earn what you get? It doesn’t, but it is the Wisdom of God.
We must participate in this transformation, but it is God that gives us the capacity. It’s like being adopted into the king’s household. We are given the best tutors, the best study materials, but we have to take advantage of them, to use them to move forward.
We have been redeemed, bought, out of slavery to sin and death. We have been forgiven. We have been adopted into the household of God and given new life. No matter what chaos is going on around us, nothing can take away these gifts that God has given us. This is our hope. “Everything [is ours], and [we] belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Cor 3:22c-23, CEB)
Glory to God and Hallelujah!