1 Corinthians 4:8–13 (NIV)
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! 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. 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! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 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.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e., us):
Some preachers are immediately forgettable while others make a lasting impression. The difference rarely comes down to their delivery. It’s all about the message. Still, you don’t tend to remember the preacher, but the message, and that’s probably as it should be. I am destined to remember a particular sermon I heard in my first year of seminary by a preacher whose name I cannot recall as I heard him only once. And of the sermon, I only remember one sentence. You ready for it? It’s a stinger. “Most of you here today are quite content to pursue the American dream for the rest of your lives with a little Jesus overlay.”
That’s the problem with these Corinthian Christians. They are pursuing the same Corinthian dream and lifestyle mindset as everyone else around them, except theirs has a little Jesus overlay. They want to continue pursuing the respectability of the conventional religion of Corinth with some Christian sauce on it. Said more bluntly, they are all for Jesus, they just aren’t too interested in the foolishness of the cross. They wanted to be wise and wealthy and honored by the people around them.
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!
Paul offered them the kingdom, but they wanted the world. Actually, they wanted both. Therein lies the big problem. We think we can have both—the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. Few of us would brazenly choose the world over Jesus. But there are too few of us who will boldly choose Jesus over the world. And it’s not that we don’t believe in Jesus and want to walk in the way of the cross. The problem is we simply don’t make a choice. We slowly settle into a mushy middle that winds up quite resonant with the lifestyle and values of the culture around us with a little Jesus overlay. There’s a technical term for this. It’s called “double-mindedness.” We are neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm at best.
Paul launches into something of a tirade against these Corinthians. He’s a bit angry. I get the sense Paul felt like he had wasted his time with them. The big tragedy is the way the Corinthians were equating this apparent prosperity with the realized rewards of God’s kingdom. After all, didn’t Jesus come so we could have abundant life?
That’s the issue, I think. We readily overlay our cultural understanding of abundance onto the Christian life, when the kingdom idea of abundance means something completely different. Paul touches on it when he says things like:
When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
Abundance is not the wealth of things. Nor is abundance the absence of hardship, suffering, tragedy, or loss. Abundance is the unwavering, powerful presence of God in the midst of hardship, suffering, tragedy, and loss.
So who is ready to step over the line from the respectability of conventional religion into the foolishness of the cross? Who is ready to make the gospel the very substance of their lives, perhaps with a little American overlay? Jesus asks us to choose. When he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” he’s asking for a definitive choice (Luke 9:23). The greatest gift we can give one another is to love each other enough to not let ourselves fail to choose and slip into the mushy middle of respectable religion. Jesus paid too high a price for that, and besides, we don’t want to waste our lives.
Now if you will, permit me a brief sidebar on the issue of wealth. Let me try to be clear. Wealth is neither good nor bad. It can be stewarded to do great harm or great good. The problem with wealth for a Christian is it is inherently deceptive. Wealth requests the same thing of us that God does—our love. Again, it’s not a problem for most of us that we would willingly choose wealth over God. Our problem is the way we are willing to tolerate the ambiguity and risk the deception of not choosing.
Jesus didn’t say so much about money because he wanted us to increase our tithe to the church, but because he knew we could not serve two masters, that double-mindedness would ultimately mean disaster. From the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth to the present day, the issue of idolatry has had less to do with Baal and little statues and everything to do with money. Jesus doesn’t care about our money. He cares about our souls. He loves us. It’s why wealthy people often need much more intensive discipleship; their wealth brings with it a very challenging calling, and many a soul has been shipwrecked from the fearful fleeing of that calling. I want you to be boldly faithful, generously spirited, gloriously alive disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our Father in heaven, thank you for the cross of Jesus, by which I am crucified to the world and the world to me. I confess, the values of the world and my broken understanding of abundance distort my faith. Lead me to understand the abundance of “on earth as it is in heaven” and to truly grasp and experience the joy of the Lord. I want to be a real Christian; not settling for a little Jesus overlay onto my otherwise easy and indulgent life. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Have you decided to follow Jesus, really? No turning back? What are the effects of respectable, conventional religion on our churches? What kind of witness and impact does it lead those churches to have on the world? What would stepping out of the comfort zone mean for you? What might it cost you? What might it cost you to stay in the comfort of convention?
For the Awakening,