Reading for Monday, Aug 27: 1 Cor 1
Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians in a fascinating way: he addresses these believers as those “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours,” (v2). Saints! These people? As we read through this letter, we might find ourselves asking, “Paul, are you sure this is what ‘saintly behavior’ looks like?” But Paul is insistent — these believers with all their foibles and struggles and outright brokenness….these are the people Paul considers saints by right of the cross. Sometimes we’re our own worst critics; we can berate ourselves, feeling worthless, hopeless. Our lives feel like a sinking ship and we simply can’t bail water quickly enough to stay afloat. We feel rather “unsaintly”, I suppose. But we need to hear this word, just as the Corinthians before us. Paul insists on this title, “saint”, as an apt description of our newfound identity in Christ. Keep that in the back of your mind as we read through Corinthians together.
Two phrases immediately help us understand more fully who we are in Christ: “sustain you to the end” (v8) and “God is faithful” (v9). Saints are not those among us who live some sort of blissfully sinless existence; you can put that guy in the same category as Sasquatch, the Lochness Monster, and magical rainbow-colored unicorns! Rather, saints are those who are sustained to the end by the faithfulness of God. In our study of Romans 1, we looked at v17 and how the righteousness of God is revealed to us through faith. Our faith? Well, in part. But God’s faithfulness toward us is (I believe) what Paul primarily has in view. Our faithfulness has done nothing to reveal the Gospel; it is only through His enduring faithfulness that we even know of the Gospel. So our “sainthood” is contingent upon HIS faithfulness, sustaining us through all of our brokenness until we reach completion on the other side.
Paul’s thesis in this letter is revealed in v18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The cross is central to Paul’s understanding of everything. The world hears the story of the cross as foolishness. How can one find life through death? True life is found in the acquisition of power, not through its relinquishment! Or so the argument goes. The message of a sacrificial Messiah was unfathomable in a culture where humility was considered a weakness, a liability.
But Paul holds up the cross of Jesus as the key to life, the complete demonstration of Jesus’ teaching that the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve (Matt. 20:28). The power of God is manifest through Jesus’ willful position of weakness. The Gospels demonstrate Jesus as being in complete control of the situation as he dies. He submits his will to the will of the Father in prayer. He allows the soldiers to take him into custody. He prays for these perpetrators as they nail him to the cross. In the end, he chooses death, willfully giving up his spirit and committing himself to the Father. What the world sees as an act of weakness and humiliation, we see as the ultimate expression of power and love. In the cross, the imperial emblem of pain, torture, and death, we now see life, redemption, and healing.
This is why Paul preaches Christ crucified (v23).
Because it’s the only message worth preaching.