1 Cor 3: 1-9
Today is the second installment in our two-part series about the cross. We are still covering the same passage as last week so let’s read it together to refresh our memory.
Before I start with a recap, I want to begin with a statement that I ended with last week: The cross is not only a means of our salvation, but the cross is also a paradigm for Christian life and ministry. Do you remember that statement? Your homework and my homework was to think about that statement and determine, do you agree with it or not, and if so, what are the practical implications? Did anyone do the homework? What do you think? Do you agree?
Well, no surprise, I agree with that statement and if I didn’t, I think you would have to worry about me. All believers should agree with that statement.
If we undergo this kind of radical paradigm shift and the cross becomes our new lens through which we see life, then everything looks differently.
I think there are many ways in which the cross changes us, but I have identified at least 3 ways from this passage that point to the fact that the cross being our paradigm ought to result in fundamental change. More than the cross merely offering a means of our salvation, it’s not just the entry point into salvation and the Christian life, but the cross, if it is your paradigm of life, then the cross:
1) shapes your identity
2) shapes your relationships
3) shapes your ministry
These 3 shifts in perspective are all inter-related. Your identity affects how you relate with others as well as your approach to ministry so each of these flows into the other and vice versa.
If you recall, last week, we saw how Paul had preached only Jesus and him crucified while he was with the Corinthians. Only Jesus, only the cross, only the gospel. That’s was the core of his teaching.
And what did they do with this gospel? They initially received it with gratitude. How do we know this? Because they experienced a genuine encounter with Jesus, they were genuinely saved and Paul starts this letter with thanksgiving to God because of their conversion.
1 Cor 1
4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge–6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.
He notes that their testimonies were confirmed so it was not just a shallow decision. In fact, there was proof of their conversion by the proliferation of spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophesying.
1 Cor 1
7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So God’s favor was being poured out on that church and Paul witnessed these things firsthand so he was overflowing with thanksgiving to God for them.
But what happened? They became proud and man-centered and they departed from the very gospel that had saved them. To them, the gospel was like milk, it was kid stuff. It’s like going to a fancy restaurant where they serve filet mignon and lobster but the waiter hands you the kid menu and your only choice is mac and cheese. If that happened to you, you’d be offended. Hey, do I look like a kid? Give me the adult menu. That’s what the gospel was to the Corinthians. It was mac ‘n cheese. Milk and cookies. Kid stuff. The gospel was the kids menu and they wanted the adult menu. They wanted to graduate from Paul’s kindergarten Christianity and enter a deeper level of spiritual training based on what they considered to be advanced teachings from wise and gifted teachers like Apollos. The Corinthians thought they were so mature, they thought they were so wise, they thought they had spiritual power. But what does the evidence from their lives suggest?
Paul says that the evidence of their lives indicates that they are not spiritual, though they may think they are spiritual. The evidence of their lives points to their worldliness. The more accurate translation is fleshly. They are still operating out of their flesh, they are still living in a very fleshly, human sort of way. Specifically, he spells out in v3, why he thinks they are worldly — it’s because they are jealous of one another and there is quarreling among them.
So in v2, Paul says — I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready — and we covered last week how Paul was being quite sarcastic here. We can’t miss the irony that Paul is employing here. If we take this verse literally, then we get into the wrong interpretation that there are different levels of teaching, like martial arts where there are moves that you teach the white belts, and you teach more difficult teachings for yellow belts and all the way up to black belt. Christianity is not like martial arts teachings. There are not different levels of teachings in the Christian life.
The gospel is all we have. And if this is the case, then the gospel was not supposed to be dismissed as if it were a spiritual milk bottle reserved only for young converts. No, the gospel was meant to be all that they need at day 1 of their Christian journey, and day 1,000 of their Christian journey, and until Jesus calls them home. The cross was not just mere milk, but it was the main entree. It was a 7 course meal and as believers, we are supposed to spend the rest of our lives being nourished by the cross and plumbing its depths. And certainly, we were not supposed to gloss over the cross and then chase after some other peripheral teaching.
And to the extent that the Corinthians failed to allow the cross to be their new paradigm, to that extent, they didn’t understand what Christian life is all about. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, you guys missed it. You blew it. You guys have no idea what Christian life is all about. You think you do, but you don’t. It’s back to square one.
Before we continue to blast the Corinthian church, I just want to say that the Corinthian tendency is in all of us. We all get bored easily of the same old thing. I don’t care how great a speaker is. If you listen to the same person every Sunday for 30 years, you are going to get bored. That is why I am so thankful that we have a team of preachers who share the teaching duty. Because I think that’s good for the congregation so that we don’t tune out to my style of speaking, and I fully recognize that I am not the most dynamic speaker. That’s not my gift.
When I first heard President Obama, I thought, wow, this guy speaks really well. Now, I’ve heard him for a few years and I hear him speak now it’s all sounding very similar. That’s why churches hire the young pastor with a lot of energy. We all want to jump on the bandwagon of the latest fad or trend. This is the trap that Corinthians fell into. The cross became old so they went in searching for the next big idea out there.
I wonder how many of us who’ve been a Christian for a while still consider the cross as precious as it was when we were first saved. We just heard some salvation testimonies recently during our baptism service a couple of weeks ago and it’s so refreshing to be reminded of the tenacious love of God that pursued Andre, and Dongyoon and Aeryn. God orchestrated events and led each of them in a unique way to the foot of the cross, where they confessed their sin and placed their faith and full trust in Jesus.
Hearing a salvation testimony always brings me back to my salvation testimony. I was a lost freshman wandering the streets of Telegraph Ave at UC Berkeley and I was eating Blondies pizza by myself because I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t know anyone since I came from out of state. But over the next year and a half, God pursued me. I tried to run away, I tried to avoid God, but He brought people into my life to reach out to me. He cornered me and I began attending church and the Word of God began speaking to me. It was like the speaker knew my deepest thoughts, how at the core, there was only darkness and selfishness.
And then one day, God saved me. I wasn’t planning on making a decision that Sunday. Actually, I was fighting it. But the Word of God was preached and the Holy Spirit came upon me and I was convicted that I was a sinner, that I was hopelessly lost and I needed a Savior to forgive me of my sins. So at a service like this, I went forward and I repented and I committed my life to Jesus to be my Lord and to lead my life. And he has been leading me ever since.
There is such a moment of clarity when you and I were saved. It’s like you were groping in darkness, fumbling your way through life, trying to open various doors to find meaning and contentment and acceptance. Then, God came knocking at the door of your heart and you opened it and you found what you had been searching for your whole life. Or more accurately, God found you.
It’s like a light switch comes on. And finally, you see reality as it meant to be seen. You realize that physical reality is not all there is. There is a spiritual reality, a reality of God and a hope of spending eternity with Him.
All of this was made possible by the cross of Jesus. To think, the Son of God would become a man so that he could pay the penalty of sin by dying on a cross for our sins. What love, what mercy, what kind of king would do this for you and me?
There is such clarity in those early moments after our conversion. The Spirit of God comes to us and he gives us spiritual understanding that we never had before. And while the Bible remains an out-dated piece of literature for most, for the believer, it is our treasure, it is God’s word spoken into our lives. Things become crystal clear at the foot of the cross. We know that we deserve to die the death that Jesus died. We know that there is no hope in us apart from what Christ did for us by taking our place and suffering on our behalf. We know that our salvation had nothing to do with who we are, what we did in the past, our salvation had nothing to do with our performance or our morality or our church attendance. That in his grace and mercy He intervened and without that intervention we would still be lost and condemned in our sins. We acknowledge at the foot of the cross that God did 100% of the work and we did 0%. And with this confession, the grace of God floods our hearts and we are filled with gratitude and humility.
That’s what salvation looks like. Such clarity. Then, what happens? Often, the clarity of our salvation moment over time gets a bit hazy. The honeymoon stage of Christian life comes to an end. We’re faced with the reality that we are saved but not yet sanctified. And we get discouraged. And the cross that was once precious to us becomes familiar and old, a relic of the past that worked many years ago but it has stopped working for us. So we dismiss the cross and we chase after something else.
Have you departed from the centrality of the cross in your life? Maybe you did and you didn’t even know it. And you departed from the cross because it became old or the cross didn’t seem to work in your life, you are no longer moved to tears at the foot of the cross like you once were. So you went in search for the next new teaching. Has the cross gotten old for you?
I want to invite everyone here to go back to the cross. Because the cross is what Christian life is all about. It is more than a means of our salvation, but it is the paradigm of Christian life and ministry.