Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan

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Worldly Ways, Favourite Preachers & Clubs

In 1 Corinthians 1-4, on the exaltation of favourite preachers, Paul makes it clear: "You didn't learn this from me!" What you saw in me was a trembling, insecure minister of the crucified Christ, a lamb thrown to the wolves. What you heard from me was no classical rhetoric or sophisticated arguments. You heard me speak of a God who came in Christ to rescue the world by becoming one with it and taking its sins on him.

"In exalting ministers because you favour this or that method, this or that connection, you are missing the message they were all called to carry." (A message they were all given by the Spirit of God. It wasn't their brilliance that discovered it.) "Your tastes and cultures overwhelm the message and so blind you to the Christ of the cross and so blind you to the God who came as the Christ of the cross. Those cultural and personal tastes also blind you to the nature of true and authentic ministry and ministers. You don't know who ministers are!"

If a minister produces decent and upright people, how can he be a failure? Look at our piety, look at our moral standard, look at our generosity--how can you call us a failure? The way of the cross will always produce virtue and moral integrity, but moral integrity will not always produce the cross. Moral integrity may blind people not only to the fact that they should be "gospelers" in their living, it may blind them to their need of the gospel of the crucified Christ. Note the morally upright in the Jewish and Gentile world who were not "gospelers".

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 the word "God" occurs ten times. Paul is denying that Paul, Peter or Apollos are of ultimate importance as ministers, he's saying: "It's God, God, God--not us."

The issue is source not method or messenger. It is by the Spirit that God has revealed these things to messengers. The messengers didn't come up with it.

The Corinthians didn't want themselves to look like fools. They were vain. It's true they had turned to a crucified Christ, but he was now glorified and that gave their commitment to him a wiser appearance. They made choices among the apostles and teachers, sitting in judgment on them (compare 9:3) and in doing that, outsiders (as well as their fellow-Christians) wouldn't think they were gullible. They wanted to maintain their Christian faith but they also wanted to keep the "that guy's no fool!" reputation. So they took pride in one teacher/apostle over another (4:6) and exalted their own tastes and preferences in doing so. But their tastes and preferences were part of their cultural baggage so it was "worldly" to dismiss Paul for Peter or Apollos. The only thing that made any of these Corinthians different from anyone else was God who brought the message of the cross through each of these apostles.

Transforming power didn't lie in the peculiar giftedness of the apostles--it lay in what they had in common! The power for change was in what was brought by the apostles (3:5-7; 4:6).

Christ hasn't finished his work of transformation. In acting and speaking in this vain and arrogant way it was clear the Corinthians hadn't taken on board what the message of the cross implied or meant. They added Christ to their list of assets, they added the gifts he gave them to their list of qualifications and felt themselves even more than able to judge everything than they were before.

They had arrived! They needed nothing more, they were wealthy, they ruled like sovereigns (4:8). ("That's not worth anything;" "He's not worth listening to;" "Now this is valuable enough to warrant keeping.") Yes, they'd arrived!

Paul wishes they had been perfected (4:8) because that would mean his pain-filled task as a wandering apostle of Jesus Christ would be over and he would be perfected also. But he knows from seeing and listening to them they haven't arrived and he knows from his own continuing experience that the job isn't done (4:9-13).

And in all this, where is the glory? Well, it depends on what "glory" we're looking for. If believers seek to bring Christ glory and to live in the glory of Christ, the word of the cross will make the determination. There is no glory of Christ or for Christ in the strutting and posturing of worldly Corinthians.

To bring glory to their master, stewards must be faithful; must be faithful to the trust committed to them (4:2). It isn't for them to go off as mavericks completing their own agenda. And the agenda of the master must be fulfilled in the manner the master has determined (compare 1:26-31).

The Corinthians can't at one and the same time give glory to God in Christ while understanding themselves as "super special" in the body of Christ. This misses the cross and shows they have a false self-understanding; a worldly and self-glorifying approach to themselves and others that is crossless. (See 1 Cor 11:20,29.) "Who are you?" "A part of the body of the crucified and resurrected, the dying and living Lord." How would that self-understanding have affected their party spirit? Their claiming to eat the Lord's Supper? Their not recognizing their brothers and sisters as the body of Christ?

Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan