I Corinthians 3:5–4:21 [Selections]

Foci: I Corinthians 3:16–23; I Corinthians 4:6–7

All Things Are Yours

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

February 5, 2017

 

Isn’t it amazing—and tragic—when worldly values such as prestige or who is more important creeps into the family of Christ? But it’s ever been so, hasn’t it? Even Jesus’ inner circle, the twelve disciples whom he personally called, could be worldly at times.[1] At one point James and John came to Jesus and asked, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Jesus, of course, turned down their request and reminded all of his disciples—who were none too happy with James and John at this point—“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If even those who lived closest to Jesus needed to be taught what it meant to be his follower, then we shouldn’t be surprised that those in the church at Corinth or even we in the church at Linebrook also need to be taught what values we ought to hold and which ones we must let go.

As occurred even among Jesus’ chosen twelve, what we continue to see in this church in Corinth is a church divided by leaders who seek worldly prestige. These believers have lost sight of the fact that they have been called and empowered by God to be his people together, not separately. Therefore the ways in which they are vying for fame and renown and importance, the ways in which they are dividing, must be taken on by Paul, even as Jesus had to address the grumbling that resulted among the twelve upon hearing James and John’s request. Our call as Christians is to serve God and those whom he has placed in our lives; our call isn’t to be exalted and praised by those around us.

So we have much to learn from what Paul is saying. Though we at Linebrook, thankfully, aren’t currently dealing with the kind of division that was in Corinth, nonetheless by means of Paul’s corrective to these believers, we have much to gain. I sometimes cringe when people say we need to become the New Testament church. And I cringe because the New Testament church—as we have seen and will continue to see—had numerous issues and problems that we shouldn’t emulate or follow. But we should seek to embrace Paul’s vision of what God in Christ has called us to be. We need to be reminded by and learn from Paul what it means to be one in Christ as children of our heavenly Father.

Paul reminds the Corinthians, beginning in verse 5 of chapter 3, that even he and Apollos had no prestige, but were only “servants, through whom [they] came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.” And, again, “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (6). In keeping with this analogy, in verse 9 Paul refers to this church as “God’s field, God’s building” in which he and Apollos merely function as “co-workers in God’s service.” He underscores this point in verse 10 by stating, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.”

But this church isn’t just any old building but, verse 16 which John read for us earlier, they are the very temple of God. “Don’t you know,” Paul asks them, “that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” What, exactly, does it mean that we are “God’s temple” and that “God’s Spirit dwells in [our] midst”? Well, the first thing we need to notice is that the “you” here is a plural you.[2] Paul isn’t just addressing individuals, but he is challenging these believers to consider their identity as a community. Together, they are the temple of God.

But, second, why a temple? I think it’s easy for us as Christian believers to forget that the roots of our faith are Jewish. As you know, in the Old Testament, the temple wasn’t simply a building, but it was a building devoted to the worship of the one and only true God. And what makes a temple holy is that God dwells in it. The temple was the place where God came to meet his people in the midst of their worship of him. Again, Paul asks these believers in verse 16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” So one of the changes that has taken place as a result of God’s coming in Christ is that he now chooses to dwell not in a building but he now dwells—he now tabernacles—in us as his temple. When Christ ascended to heaven after rising from the dead, he sent his Spirit to both seal and indwell us for we are now his temple. Brothers and sisters, even this morning, God by his Holy Spirit is dwelling in our midst, thus making us holy by virtue of his presence in and with us.

But too often when we as believers speak of being God’s temple, not only do we tend to personalize this—we make it about us as individuals rather than viewing ourselves as a temple in the sense that we are part of God’s larger community; but we also tend to lose the moral framework that is indicated by temple language. With our culture’s emphases on self-improvement, we too often think that the importance or significance of being God’s temple means that we should eat right, sleep well, exercise regularly, and seek to live balanced lives. But though these things no doubt may be important to our functioning well, they aren’t what is indicated by Paul’s use of temple language. To refer to these believers as God’s temple is a means of highlighting that they should therefore be living for God, seeking to live according to his teaching—according to his will and his ways—seeking to be holy even as he is holy. They have been called away from evil purposes and have instead been set apart to do good works which God declared beforehand that we should walk in them.[3] So believers in Christ have been set aside by God for his purposes. And the way in which we live our lives ought to reflect this reality.

Paul’s concern here, therefore, is how the behavior of various individuals is hurting the body at large. This is why he states in verse 17, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” Those in this church who are claiming to follow Paul—or Apollos—or Cephas are fostering division, not unity. And this division is oh so wrong because it’s in danger of destroying the unity that God in Christ died to bring to his people. As mentioned last week, in hearing how divided these believers are, Paul has had to return to the milk of the Gospel rather than feeding them solid food. He’s had to remind them that it is God who saved them; it is God who set them apart from evil purposes to serve him; it is God who called them into fellowship in Christ. God has called them to be one in him. They are God’s temple not because they are so good but because God is so good. Because of his goodness, displayed so powerfully in Christ’s sacrifice, they now belong to God—they now are God’s temple—because of God’s Holy Spirit who now indwells them.

But because their divisive ways speaks against their unity in Christ, in verse 18 Paul rebukes these believers stating, “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.” As we saw last week, Paul is working within the Old Testament framework of wisdom and foolishness. According to God’s revelation, to what he has disclosed and communicated to us in his Word, true wisdom requires knowing, serving, and living for God whereas foolishness is lack of belief in God and consequently living however one pleases. Some of the believers at Corinth are deceived because they are valuing what their culture values rather than what God values. Though they are united by God’s Spirit, their divisive behavior is making them act in a worldly manner, making them no different than the unbelieving culture around them. Though God is no “respecters of persons,”[4] they are as they look to people’s supposed knowledge or power or prestige as indicators of value. Yet Paul is challenging them to become “fools” in that they should stop assigning value based on status and instead re-align their values to fall in line with those God has disclosed in his Word.

“For,” verses 19 and 20, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” And Paul goes on to clarify exactly how this is the case in turning to God’s Word to make his case. Since Paul will continue to use the Old Testament, or the “Scriptures,” it’s worth noting that Paul and other New Testament authors reference the Old Testament because they view it as coming from God and therefore as carrying final authority. And, too, when they quote a particular verse, they often have a whole theology in mind that arises from the broader context of the verse or passage from which they’re quoting.

So Paul’s first appeal to Scripture in verse 19 comes from the book of Job: “As it is written: ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’”[5] This quotation from Job is, interestingly, part of Eliphaz’s response to Job’s suffering. I say “interestingly” because we’ve come to see Job’s three friends as having gotten it completely wrong in terms of how they respond to his suffering. And yet, the fact that Paul is quoting from part of this speech indicates Eliphaz got something right. In fact, there’s a lot of good theology, Scriptural truth, in this section as he tells Job to “appeal to God” and lay his cause before him (8). He reminds him that God “performs wonders that cannot be fathomed” and “miracles that cannot be counted” (9). For example, “He provides rain for the earth” (10), he sets the lowly on high, he lifts those who mourn to safety (11), he “thwarts the plans of the crafty” (12) and, the verse Paul quotes, God does indeed catch “the wise in their craftiness” and he also sweeps away “the schemes of the wily,” the second half of the verse. Therefore, “the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth” (16). All true! Though Eliphaz may have gotten some things wrong in the way in which he sought to make sense of Job’s suffering and consequently misapplied God’s truth to Job’s situation—namely by blaming Job as the cause of his own suffering—part of Eliphaz’s theology, of his understanding of God and his ways, was right. For God does indeed give hope to the poor and shut the mouth of injustice by thwarting the plans of the crafty and the schemes of the wily. This is what Paul affirms here. Whereas Eliphaz misapplied this truth to righteous Job’s situation, Paul is correctly applying it to the situation in Corinth.

The second Old Testament verse Paul turns to for support, stated in verse 10 of I Corinthians 3, comes from Psalm 94: “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” In this psalm, the psalmist is asking God to judge the earth, pay back to the crowd what they deserve, and avenge the wicked (2–3). Then he provides a sampling of their wickedness: they pour out arrogant words, they’re full of boasting (4), they crush the LORD’s people (3), slay the widow and foreigner and murder the fatherless (6), all the while saying—as we similarly saw in Isaiah[6] last week—“The LORD does not see” or take notice (7). Again, biblically understood, this is the attitude of a fool, of one who is morally corrupt. Once you remove belief in God, you remove a key motivation for moral, that is, godly, behavior. The psalmist, as does Paul, then encourages the “senseless ones among the people”—whom he calls “fools”—to become wise (8) and reminds them that God who made the ears hears what they are saying and God who formed the eye sees what they are doing (9). And it is in this context that he then states the verse quoted by Paul:[7] “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” Or “The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.” Again, human nature hasn’t changed. It can’t change apart from God working in our lives. This is what enables Paul to connect the words of the psalmist a thousand or so years earlier to the current situation in Corinth. Because more important than human nature not changing, God’s Word doesn’t change, thus allowing it to be applied to the psalmist—to the Corinthians—to us. As did the psalmist, Paul is both calling out ungodly behavior and warning those who are exhibiting it that God is watching. Therefore they should cut it out and live as God calls us all to live.

So Paul applies both of these Old Testament passages to the situation in Corinth, admonishing them in verse 21, “So then, no more boasting about human leaders!” God, not people in power, should be their focus for God who made everything takes notice of everything (Job 5). God knows us intimately and will always judges rightly (Psalm 94). So the Corinthians’ boasting about their leaders or who baptized them is wrong. Boasting should only be in God. As Paul tells these believers, “All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”

“All things are yours.” What does this mean? It means that for those who have been saved by God—who have been sanctified, set aside to serve God’s purposes—who have been called to be united by God in Christ, which is true for all Christians whether they are living in Corinth or in Ipswich or beyond, for all Christians, all things are ours because if we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, everything else ought to pale in comparison and importance. As the old hymn by John Peterson goes,[8] “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, I know that he will care for me.” Brothers and sisters, if we know God in Christ, then we have been given his Spirit and therefore have access, 24/7, to our loving and heavenly Father who shares all that he has with us. He has given us his very life that we might never be separated from him, from his love, not in this life or the next. So what more could we possibly need? All things are ours.

Further, because these believers in Corinth know Christ, they can claim all who similarly know him as their own—whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas—because we are all part of the same family and have been given to each other by God. So there’s no room for boasting about human leaders because these human leaders belong to God even as they do;

Because they know Christ, the world, life, death, the present, the future also belong to them because God shares all that he is and all that he has with his children;

Because they know Christ, they are of Christ;

And because Christ is of God, this means they also are of God.

And the things that God gives us are for the mutual benefit of all of his people. They aren’t intended for individual or private benefit. So if they have God himself dwelling in and with them, what are they doing elevating or bragging or being concerned about human leaders? The focus of these believers is off. Rather than focus on the God in whose image they have been made and in whom they are to find their purpose in life, they’re bragging about different image-bearers and trying to find their glory in importance in them rather than in God.

In chapter 4 Paul returns to this theme in the verses we’re highlighting. In verse 6 he tells them, “Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” So these believers ought not go beyond what the Scriptures teach or assume that what the teachers are adding is somehow better than the Scriptures themselves. If even Paul and Apollos are merely those who, respectively, planted and watered the seed of God’s Gospel among the field of the Corinthians, then on what ground is there any boasting since, again, it is only God who makes things grow? (I Corinthians 3:6–7). And if it’s only God who can make things grow—who can bring us from spiritual death to spiritual life—who can remove our spiritual blindness and give us spiritual sight—then what in the world are they doing following different leaders and pitting different leaders against one another, thus dividing God’s church, rather than turning to and praising God himself?

And if, for arguments sake, they’re impressed by the learning or the eloquence of others, don’t they realize that even these abilities come from God for he is the one who made each and every one of us? To state this in Paul’s words, verse 7, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” This is a humbling—and important—truth. Though we all have different gifts and abilities, none of them should lead us to brag as though having a particular ability thereby makes us more special than anyone else. Every life matters. Every gift matters. Every person matters. And in the mind of God, our abilities and gifts have been given that we might be stewards and use our time and talents to serve God and those whom he’s placed in our lives.

What wonderful reminders Paul has given us:

We are God’s temple not because we are so special but because God is so special and by choosing to indwell us by his Holy Spirit, we, too, are holy;

As God’s temple, he has called us to follow—and live for—and worship him;

As God’s temple, we have been called to be one in Jesus Christ and to live as he did, loving and serving God and loving and serving each other;

As God’s temple, we should embrace and recognize that our life, our time, our gifts, our abilities are not ours but have been given by him and are intended to be used for him and for those whom he’s placed in our lives;

As God’s temple, all things are ours because he is ours and will never leave us or forsake us, not in this life or the next;

As God’s temple, nothing can ever separate us from his love for he ever indwells the temple he has made his home, his dwelling. As Paul reminds us Romans 8,[9] neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers nor things present nor anything to come, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. All things are ours.

Let us pray.

[1] Mark 10:35–45: 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Interestingly, in Matthew’s version, it is James and John’s mother who makes this request of Jesus: Matthew 20:20–28 : 20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

[2] 16οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; 17εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός: ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

[3] Ephesians 2:10:  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

[4] E.g., 2 Chronicles 19:7: Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”; Job 34:19: who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?; Romans 2:11: For God does not show favoritism.; Acts 10:34–35: 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

[5] Job 5:13. The passage is vv. 8–16:“But if I were you, I would appeal to God; I would lay my cause before him. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.
10 He provides rain for the earth; he sends water on the countryside. 11 The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. 12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. 13 He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away. 14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night. 15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful. 16 So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth.

[6] Isaiah 29:13–16: 13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?

[7] Psalm 94:11. The entire psalm reads: The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance. They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless. They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.” Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? 10 Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge? 11 The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile. 12 Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law; 13 you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. 14 For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. 15 Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it. 16 Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? 17 Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. 18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. 19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. 20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? 21 The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. 22 But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. 23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

[8] “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, The wealth in every mine; He owns the rivers and the rocks and rills, The sun and stars that shine. Wonderful riches, more than tongue can tell—He is my Father so they’re mine as well; He owns the cattle on a thousand hills —I know that He will care for me.

 

[9] Romans 8:28.

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