Saturday, April 6, 2013

Essay 1—Cross and Unity—(4) Unity Revisited, Part 2

Outline: E1.4-Unity Revisited-2
Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:18-4:16
Discussion Audio (1h54m)

Christianity is not about who “I follow” but who “We imitate”

This session discusses the closing of Paul’s first essay in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul continues to focus on the cross of Christ event and applies its meaning as the solution to the problem of divisions.

At least some of the Corinthians had broken into factions, each looking to a different leader and placing him on a pedestal as above all the others. They thought they were doing the leaders a favor, but Paul writes that what in fact they are doing is attempting to elevate their own positions, using the leaders as weapons against one another. Paul denounces this anti-Christian behavior. Paul writes that ethical behavior must take priority over knowledge or doctrinal purity. When the question is on who is teaching a more pure gospel, it is not for him or anyone else to judge, but judgment is to be left to Christ. All who are faithful to their calling from Christ are building the temple of Christ. All who promote harmony in the community of believers are doing the work of building up. Any who foster strife, quarreling, and division are destroying the temple.

Paul writes that all teachers have something to contribute to the church. By claiming only one is worthy, or one is more worthy than others, Paul writes that the Corinthians are in fact rejecting God’s gifts.

The Corinthian error is an easy one to repeat… Our slogans take the form of "I am of the Presbyterians," or "of the Pentecostals," or "of the Roman Catholics." Or they might take ideological forms: "I am of the liberals," or "of the evangelicals," or "of the fundamentalists." And these are also used as weapons: "Oh, he's a fundamentalist, you know." Which means that we no longer need to listen to him, since his ideology has determined his overall value as a spokesman for God. It is hardly possible in a day like ours that one will not have denominational, theological, or ideological preferences. The difficulty lies in allowing that it might really be true that "all things are ours," including those whom we think God would do better to be without. But God is full of surprises; and he may choose to minister to us from the "strangest" of sources, if we were but more truly "in Christ" and therefore free in him to learn and to love.[1]

Paul writes that Christians are responsible to serve one another, but they are only accountable to God. The measure of evaluation is not what results have been achieved, but have they been faithful to God’s assignment. Paul’s employer is God, not the Corinthians. He serves the Corinthians, but he will not be dictated or influenced by their evaluations and criticisms.

In the concluding remarks on this first essay, Paul engages in strong irony and sarcasm to gain the Corinthian Christians’ attention. He repeats back to them statements they have made about themselves and infuses them with sarcastic irony. He then contrasts himself and his colleagues against what the Corinthians are saying about themselves.

Paul and the apostles live the way of the cross. The Corinthians (at least some of them) thought Paul’s way was weak and foolish. Paul cites scripture to show that his way is true and their way is false.

Paul describes his way as that of non-retaliation. He does not respond to violence and abuse in kind.

[Paul] knew what physical deprivation meant… His reward was often insult, persecution and slander; but Paul responded according to the irenic admonition of Jesus. The end result of all this was that the dirt scoured from the world was poured upon him and his apostolic co-laborers. They then acted as cleansing agents, taking to themselves hate, malice, and bitterness; and by absorbing this without violent or vengeful response, they took away those evils. Thus in a particular way they were carrying on the work of Christ.[2]

Paul’s final appeal is “imitate me.” He does not say “follow me” or “follow my teachings” or to follow anyone else’s teachings. It is “imitate me.” Christian discipleship is not all about gaining more knowledge, more book learning, more lectures, more sermons, but it is more about imitating Christians in our midst who have developed the character and display the glory of Christ.

What becomes transparent in this final appeal is that for Paul right thinking simply is not enough. The gospel must result in appropriate behavior as well.[3]

[1] New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First Epistle; entry on 1 Cor. 3:23.
[2] Orr/Walther, 1 Corinthians; quoted in Bailey, loc. 1748
[3] NICNT, 1 Cor. 4:14-21

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