1 Corinthians 3:1-9
If you would like to feel better about your local church, definitely read 1 Corinthians. The moral behavior of the local Moose lodge membership may be superior to that of the church in Corinth. (Note: I mean no offense to any big or small animal clubs.) Measured from contemporary religious baselines, the contention, immorality and abuses of the spiritual gifts going on in Corinth would raise questions about the legitimacy of these folk’s relationship with God. After all, righteousness behavior is the evidence of our salvation isn’t it?
I do not think such a thought ever entered Paul’s mind. Before Paul wields the rod of reproof in this letter, he reveals his apostolic-father-heart toward these people and how he views them. To Paul, these people (as messed up as they are) are first and foremost saints who will be “confirmed to the end, blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ“. (read 1:1-9)
In today’s passage Paul does not immediately address their lifestyles, he goes directly to the root of their problems. The Corinthians have forgotten (or have yet to discover) who they actually are. Paul chides them, “are you not walking like mere men?”. To Paul, the core issue is an identity crisis. Paul, as a true spiritual father, knows his spiritual offspring better than they know themselves. They have forgotten (or have yet to discover) that they are now saints yet are behaving in accord with who they once were – mere men.
As you think of yourself, do you view yourself as a mere man or do you think of yourself as a saint? For many of us, there has been a subtle rationalization we have developed over time that goes something like this, “Well….yes, in theory I guess I am a saint; I have accepted Jesus so…. I am forgiven of my sins so…. I’m reasonably secure about eternity, but …..really, in regard to my nature and how I truly think about myself, my experience supports the mere man proposition. (Similar to yesterday’s devotional, this is a place where we are at risk of forming doctrines around our experience – following paths of least resistance; adopting beliefs that we can live with easier than God’s Word.)
This wise spiritual father cuts off this line of thinking, as Paul does, when he lovingly asks them, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”. Paul is saying that when we became temples of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer merely men. While it may have been more comfortable for them to write off their deplorable behavior to just being human, Paul intentionally stands in the way and says, “No!” He makes it clear their behavior is wrong because it is utterly incompatible with their new identities as saints.
Paul could have given them relief, confirming that they were just sinful men saved by grace; that by virtue of this curse, they were destined in their fallen natures to stray as mere men are inclined to do. I don’t think this thought ever entered Paul’s thinking (in spite of our interpretations of his teachings in Romans 7). To the same people, in a follow up letter, he comments, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things (such as identities as a mere men) passed away; behold new things have come“.
“For we are God’s fellow-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
As a wise master builder, I believe Paul is saying that the only foundation that can support a maturing and growing relationship with God is that of our new identities as saints – our own personal revelation that we are beloved sons of God with new natures. Again, do you think of yourself fundamentally as a mere man or as a saint? Have you ever thought through just how your identity has been formed? Do you think it has been your experience that the scriptures or your experience have had the greater role in forming your core identity?
The Corinthians, in their identity vacuum, reverted back to what they did naturally as pagans who knew nothing of a singular and holy God. Is it possible that in the lack of understanding and appreciation of our new identities, that we revert back to what we naturally do with our religious convictions – work hard at pleasing God as mere men?”.
Out of curiosity, do the songs you sing and the sermons you hear cast you more in the role of a saint or more in the role of a poor conflicted sinner saved by grace? It is truly a foundational question.
Father, we are not yet the radiant and powerful Church You have envisioned. Without condemning ourselves, help us to humbly acknowledge this. Help us to not explain this away as some kind of sovereign dispensation of mediocrity. Holy Spirit breath upon us. Awaken us to the inheritance of our new identities and confirm Yourself to this world through a Church who knows who she is. Amen.