July 16, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (1 Corinthians 1-4)

Submitted by Dominic M. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1-4

Identify several truths that show the absurdity of being divided according to party-divisions as believers.

Association with people who mastered the rhetorical flourishes of the age was a popular way to elevate oneself above the crowd in the times of the Corinthian church.  Rhetoric and the ability to handle it well was the social currency and the pop culture of that time.  The Corinthians were importing pop culture right into the ranks of its own church leaders–defining their association to the leaders based on how eloquently they could preach.  Apostle Paul cuts right through this by reminding them of the basic gospel message in 1:13–that Christ is not divided, that it is He alone who was crucified, and in his name were they baptized.  By bringing in the latest social fads and turning the church into an arena for entertainment, the Corinthians had quickly moved beyond the simple gospel that Paul preached.  They were no longer concerned about the many other aspects of Paul’s life–-his testimony, his sufferings, his burden for people, his focus on pleasing God.  Instead they had moved on–-moved on to what amounts to self-centered way of elevating oneself through association with what they considered competent people.  In short, the gospel no longer carried any weight for them–it was just another platform for some rhetorician to expound upon to show off their skills.

Looking at how the Corinthians imported the values and currency of the culture around them into the church, I also need to examine my heart to see if I have been doing the same thing.  In what ways do I take the values and cues from the culture around me and bring them into church?  How do I try to distinguish myself from others through some culturally-defined criteria?  I think one big area for me is the need to appear competent in the eyes of people.  While we all admit that we’re sinners, this desire to save face and to appear a certain way is really resilient.  It’s like saying, “I follow Competence,” while others might follow whatever skill or talent or niche that sets them apart from everyone else.  What is absurd is that this is not the gospel.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the social politics and currency of the group dynamic and image management and forget the very basic fundamental confession that we are sinners.  That is what we confessed and what we believe, yet many times I find this natural impulse to hide it and to cover it up and to appear like I have it all together.  Yet when I do this, I “empty the cross of Christ of its power” because competence is asserting that I have what it takes to earn my righteousness before men.  Apostle Paul consistently makes reference to ways in which he is not competent—1:17 “not with words of eloquent wisdom,” 1:27  “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” and 2:1 “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.”  My identity before Christ and my relationship with Him should be the dominant way in which I see myself.  But oftentimes I subtly allow the voice of competence to have a say in how I value myself, and that is when I need to quickly go back to the basic gospel message.  Paul sums it up in 2:1, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This is the gospel message that I need to be reminded of again and again.  I know the miseries of living with people-consciousness at the forefront, always adjusting my masks to minimize the rejection of others.  This is a miserable way to live.  When Christ and Him crucified is the bedrock of my identity, there is no one to fear because I know that I am loved as I am.  Christ died to set me free from seeking the approval of man, free from playing these performance and competence games, free from jumping through hurdles and doing backflips to prove my worth among men.  Christ died to free me from myself so that I could give my life to serve Him, focusing my energies outward instead of inward.  It is when I am serving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength that I am truly living and experiencing the freedom of love and being loved.

Considering the eternal stakes involved in the gospel, it makes the Corinthian’s obsession over party divisions that much more absurd.  Arguing over Paul or Cephas or Apollos while people around them were in need of someone to preach the gospel to them shows how far they had fallen from the core of the gospel message.  This is a stark reminder for me to not get caught up in whatever performance or competence focus that blinds my heart to the needs of people around me.  This world is already lacking in genuine servants of God–it would be sad if I allowed Satan to divert my attention from loving the people God placed around me to instead be focused on irrelevant self-focused endeavor of image management.

Lord, thank you for this timely reminder to be focused on the spiritual battle at hand and not be distracted and neutralized by worldly values and endeavors.  Help me to abandon this relentless focus on needing to appear a certain way before others and to return to the basic confession and testimony that I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness, and that my identity is secure in You because of the cross.  Help me to stop wasting time focused on positioning myself, but rather to re-channel those energies to love the people you have placed around me, anticipating their needs and being proactive about meeting them.  Help me Lord to daily die to my pride and ego so that I can be available to do the work you have called me to do.

Submitted by James C. from Gracepoint Austin Church

1 Corinthians 1-4

Identify several truths that show the absurdity of being divided according to party-divisions as believers.

In this passage, Paul gives several reasons to the Corinthians to show them that division among Christians is without basis. One of the biggest reasons he gives is that all of us are saved through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We are all recipients of the same undeserved gift of God’s forgiveness through what Christ has done, and so, there should be the sense of bond and unity among people who know they’ve received a precious gift. It’s kind of like how people who go through similar life-changing experiences can quickly feel a strong sense of connection, and there’s a sense that they understand one another because of their similar experience. For Christians, our deepest problem is our sinfulness, and the Gospel message is so precious to us. Hence, that should give us a strong sense of unity and connection to one another. Although God used different people in our lives, in the end we are saved by the same sacrifice of Christ and received the same gift of salvation through the cross.

There is also another important point of commonality, which is that all of believers are actually serving the same Lord–each being merely servants. Using the analogy of gardening, Apostle Paul says, “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who gives the growth.” The purpose and motivation for their service is to give glory to God, and so to focus overly on following specific human leaders is denigrate the biggest focus we should have about following and serving Christ. He should be our focus and the one we are trying to please and imitate, and the human leaders are just servants of God who are there to help us to do that. The focus needs to be on Christ.

Paul also points out that before the cross, upon which the greatest being suffered the lowest death, there is really no place for human boasting. So much of human division is due to people’s pride, in which one person or one group thinks they are better than others in this way or that, and that therefore they are of a different kind. Paul explains how God often uses the weak and lowly things to do his work, and this gives us nothing to boast about. And that is true of the Gospel message, where God used Christ’s death–this seeming victory of his enemies–to bring about the deliverance of mankind. We could not overcome sin with our own will power or strength.  God was able to do through Christ’s sacrifice. In contrast, what little differences there are between the next person and us is really so irrelevant when it comes to the grand scheme of things, and there is no room for us to boast about these.

When I consider these various reasons Paul gives to the basis of Christian unity, I see that they are all based on the Gospel. If I were to feel like there’s no way I can relate to another believer because of our differences or to feel like my group or my church is so superior to another, it would be to totally misunderstand the Gospel. In the Gospel I find that my identify as a sinner and being forgiven and given an opportunity to serve God is just like how Christ has worked in others’ lives. As I understand and appreciate the Gospel more, my sense of bond with others will also deepen. Amazingly, the Gospel is not only how my relationship with God is restored but also how I can feel connected to others who have also received this Gospel.

The Corinthians have forgotten where they have come from. They are acting as if they had the wisdom and spiritual insight to find God on their own. But they have forgotten that they received the gospel, that they were so lost, so down and out, that Paul had to come and give them the gospel. They were and still are all in the same boat. How could they try to differentiate themselves from those next to them? They all received the gift together. How absurd it is to differentiate oneself after a few years have gone by!

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