Continuing from where I left of in Part1 (Go read it first if you haven’t yet, otherwise this may not make complete sense)……..
My hesitation with the self-help message that tells us how awesome we really are is not based on the fact that I don’t find it true. In fact,the bible makes it abundantly clear that we are precious in God’s eyes and that he has wonderful plans for those that diligently seek him. On the contrary, it’s that the message is an incomplete picture of just how awesome we are, but more importantly why that’s so.
Any time our identity is not anchored in Christ we’re robbing ourselves and the world around us of truly seeing the power of God working in and through us.
I believe the apostle Paul’s interaction with the church in Corinth serves as a warning to us. To put it all in context, we have to be aware of the fact that the church in Corinth suffered from prideful arrogance in their own spirituality. I may be incorrect in this statement, but the first time that I’m aware of it being revealed is in 1 Corinthians 4, where Paul essentially warns them of their boasting in their hyper-spirituality. Or, in regards to how “advanced” they thought that they had become in the faith:
“6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”
Paul, was attempting to show them the contrast between the different versions of “Christianity” that they were practicing. I highlighted everything above in bold that aligns with the message that Paul preached, and underlined and italicized the message preached (belief held) at the church in Corinth.
Let’s contrast each point, with what we often see in many modern day churches……..
1) “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us!” How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!
I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve heard pastors or fellow Christians half-hazardly blame the state of the church’s appeal (or lack of) on appearing to be lacking in power in the world’s eyes. The common catch phrase that’s turned into a counterfeit belief system. Often regurgitated and passed along via word of mouth, this cliche theology sounds something like this…. “Ain’t nobody tryin’ to join a church when Christians are broke and unsuccessful!” While I don’t disagree with the fact that being broke or unsuccessful makes you more spiritual or meek, I do find statements like this offensive and off-base. For the simple fact that some of the most broke and unsuccessful Christians (by worldly standards) are some of the most amazing Christians to ever have lived (Jesus, Paul, most of the apostles – who were fisherman) . On that same note, there are many very successful Christians (by worldly standards) that were/are equally awesome. Billy Graham, Bono, and many others that I do not know – LOL. Our greatest treasure is not measured in currency. This is the message that the already successful world needs to hear. Many of them already have success, so by the church offering them more of the same repacked as “Good News” is not going to draw a crowd. At the other extreme (for those in relative poverty), if the prosperity gospel is somewhat of a social experiment, I haven’t seen any statistics to prove that it really works in it’s most radical (worst) form (ie – Name it & Claim it). Which is less about over all wholeness and treasures in heaven , and more about material possessions and perfect health. There is nothing new under the sun, as Solomon said, and many of these messages in the church have been around forever, and have never died since the church in Corinth. In all likelihood it existed even before that – LOL.
2)”We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!”
Modern day translation? “It’s what I like to refer to as the “PRESSURE gospel”. The sermon typically contains phrases like “You guys aren’t getting it”, “When is the church going to wake up?”, “We’ve been so confused”, “C’mon guys!”, “Wake UP!” Apparently the modern day gospel message has become so complex that only the people who live in the deepest possible depths of the ocean, spiritually speaking, really get it. I mean, your depth of knowledge and wisdom needs to be way below sea level to get a grip on how deep some of this stuff is (massive sarcasm going on here!). And then, when you get “there”, you’ll find a whole other hidden universe to tap into that “they” discovered years ago, but that you weren’t yet privy to. “Oh, if you only understood what the bible is really trying to tell you!” – is often the overarching theme of these messages. Typically, by the time the parishioners vacate the premises of the church their confidence in what they knew of the bible and Christ have been lashed mercilessly for 2-hours straight, but the hope of something greater/deeper numbs the pain. It usually takes one day to fully recover, and then the next day when you wake up it’s back to the world as you know it. Imperfect, often times joyful, other times daunting and vague. In so many ways it becomes a works based self-defeating impossibility, an unattainable goal that always slips through the fingers.
You see, there was a power that Paul, Stephen and Peter walked in, in the early church. Unfortunately, it looks a little different then what modern church folks want to hear or trust in. We’re unwilling to give it a try, because modern day intellect and culture tell us that it doesn’t work. We’re unwilling to try it, because we’ve bought into their mentality. More on this later, but notice how every method that Paul preaches for success is contrary to what the world teaches.
3) We are weak, but you are strong!
Modern day translation? “We are more than conquerors”. Except that’s actually an incomplete sentence. Or, at least the sentence or scripture is often never completed – “through him who loved us” – Romans 8. Furthermore, by truncating it they never share the previous verses that talk about hardship and persecution, which is why we are more than conquerors. We’re not conquerors because of our personal awesomeness. We’re MORE than a conqueror, because – “34 ………Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” So, then what makes us conquerors over our circumstances? “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”……….“37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Therefore, we’re more than conquerors, not only because we overcome circumstances that are uncomfortable and that we don’t like, or because we have “favor”. NO, we’re more than conquerors, because Jesus died on the cross and now nothing can separate us from the love of God. The real message of Christ doesn’t instruct us on how we become strong using the world’s system for personal gain. True strength in the kingdom of God is weak by the world’s standards. Think Jesus on the cross, being persecuted by the greatest power that the world has to offer. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
I believe that the good news would appeal to more people if we boasted more in our weakness rather than in our strength.
4) You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”
This really overlaps with all of the previous points. Based on what Paul says I would imagine that the church in Corinth often taught sermons series, on power, favor, living the blessed life etc. I don’t want to caricature something that I don’t know for sure, but Paul’s sarcasm must speak to the level of disgust that he witnessed with what they believed and taught. Considering their culture, they were probably tainted by Greek schools of thought (according to commentaries that I’ve read), where manual labor was considered the work of slaves. Which reminds me of another partial scripture oftn quoted – “We’re to be the Head and NOT the Tail” – Deuteronomy 28. Deuteronomy 28, is not so much of a command or charge to Christians TOO be the head and not the Tail for dominion sake. Instead, it’s really a promise from God that if we keep his commandments (Deut. 28:1) that HE “13 The LORD will make you the head, not the tail.” Again, this is not based on how awesome you are, but based on our own righteousness and a desire to follow his will and commands.
“When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” This is almost like a mini version of the Beatitudes or Romans 12. Greek ideals said that if a man didn’t fight back when slandered, that he was a wimp. As usual Jesus turns the world’s ideals 180 degrees, and upside down on it’s head.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The previous question that was posed on Part1 of – I sinned, but I didn’t realize it , was this: What should our general attitude be as Christians? Should we carry ourselves with quiet confidence in our righteousness or did God intend for us to see ourselves as unrighteous, but strong only through our faith in Christ?
I honestly believe that it can be a healthy mix of both. A HA! Caught you by surprise, didn’t I! 😉
** We have already become rich, although not by worldly measures, but “because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:8.
** We can be wise in the knowledge of Christ and of the bible, but only by revelation from the Holy Spirit. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Corinthians 2:14
** We are strong, but only through Christ who strengths us. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
** It’s great to be honored, but it only has eternal value if it’s for Christ’s sake. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” – Matthew 5:16