By Robert L. Maddox
Parlor Discussion by Mike Durst 9:00 AM
1 Corinthians 3:10-23
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?* 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’,
‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’
21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Paul says, in Christ, “all things are yours.” That’s quite a declaration. Food, water, clothing, shelter, security, a dependable Iphone? All things? Well, not everything. Paul is saying, I believe, that God in Christ has provided all we need to live really productive spiritual, emotional, relational, serving lives. That’s a big promise of itself but I can go there. Let’s see what we can see from this passage by way of appropriating the stuff we need for much of everyday existence. Food, water, shelter, a good Iphone will take some more talk.
I surmise Paul offers us a large trust fund of the stuff to make the most of our lives on a daily basis. He couches his offering in the context of his view of Christology, his understanding of the new life offered us and anyone through a dynamic approach to life rooted in an ongoing relationship with Jesus as the Christ. Life in Christ, to use Paul’s oft-appearing mantra, has an incredible treasure trove of stuff for living.
See what he says: all things are yours—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, no fear of death, the promise of life, clearer focus on the past, hope for present and future. Wow! As the Staples commercial says, “That’s a lot of good stuff.”
Let me frame my comments this way. Dr. Sid Fowler and the Interim Working Team of six able Westmorelanders are leading us through a series of “ Holy Conversations.” That is, these sessions are not only rich conversations among a variety of clusters of church folks, they are framed by relational theology. What is God calling us to do? When has church been a boon? When has church been a bust? Before we are done, everyone in the Westmoreland family will have opportunities to take part in any one of several of these holy conversations. Watch for the unfolding schedule.
At a recent such event, folks went around the room saying what they wanted from Westmoreland in the years ahead. Terrific prayers, hopes, dreams. I remember most of them. One comment stuck especially. This person said “I want a church that helps me live my life.” Worship, music, studies are fine and encouraged. But this Westmorelander cut to the chase and said, “I want a church that helps me live my life.”
For my part, this promise from Paul aims to do much of that especially in the way that I hear Paul making this assertion.
Paul made this promise to the Corinthians. A large city in the Roman Empire. Trade. Commerce. Temples to this or that god on every corner sort of like Massachusetts Aveneu. A long time ago. But folks just like you and me. Work. Family. Politics. Religion. Military everywhere. A decent measure of freedom as long as you did not tangle with Rome. The Corinthians wanted to live their lives to the fullest. Just like you and me.
Paul came along and offered them a better way. Not the only way, maybe But certainly a better way. Sometimes he tried to build on what they knew with which he disagreed. For example, he might say, “Aabout this or that god, what do they offer you?” Sometime he took what they knew with which he did agree on tried to build on it. Such as a rather broad appreciation of much in Judaism.
His message took root with some of the people of Corinth. Not sure how many but some. Typically as he travelled around, he would spend time in a city where some people had shown interest in the message of Jesus. Then he would leave to gather a new cluster of folks in another city. As his letters to Corinth, while he was away from trouble arose. Nothing new there. The churches have always had trouble. Where two or three people are gathered together, there is trouble among them. So he wrote to help them understand better his message of hope. In Corinth the Jesus people had divided up among themselves some liking this preacher, some liking another. But in it all, they were having a hard time figuring how to live to the fullest in terms of what Paul was saying about the Jesus way.
In this piece of the letter he gave them three metaphors, three clues on how to do their lives better: Paul, never one to shirk from tooting his own horn, said, you can learn from me. You can certainly appreciate Apollos, and of course you can be like Cephas.
I will translate the three metaphors.
In the metaphor about himself, Paul offers the promise of a fully engaged mind and heart undergirded by boundless energy and courage. Using the Paul metaphor we can approach our lives of faith using our best minds. We can’t know everything though some folks think they do. Nothing that is knowable is beyond us. We can ask earnest questions of the Bible. We can poke around without fear in our theology. We certainly can hold to account anyone who stands in this pulpit, appears on television, writes a book, pretends in any way to speak with authority about God, faith, politics, church, national budget, for whom to vote, etc. Paul tackled it all. He probably got his stomach in a knot sometimes. He certainly made some others miserably uncomfortable. But he got the answers and directions he needed to live his life as he felt God wanted it lived. We can also be sure that someone has already asked our questions before us. If they got answers, well and good. If answers eluded them, they lived with questions. That’s part of God’s all things are ours message.
Then Apollos. This early church man comes across to me as an able, charming, affable and gifted preacher for sure not lacking in courage, one for whom distance and strange cultures proved no impediment. Through Apollos Paul promised an ebullient approach to life.
I really do not know much about Apollos. He appears from time to time in the Book of Acts and here he pops up with some relationship with the folks in Corinth. The picture I have of him holds much charm. At some point he had an experience with the Spirit of
God in terms of some understanding of Jesus. Not sure what that was. But whatever it was proved so affecting, so transformative that he set out to share that good news with all who would listen to him. He did not wait to finish seminary. He just charged ahead.
Along the way he met two of Paul’s best friends, husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla. They heard Apollos preach. Loved him. Quickly realized his theological gaps and set about to teach him what they knew. To Apollos’ credit he listened and learned and became the better preacher for it. So away he went, loving and learning as he went. I like that man. He did not wait to get it all figured out before he embarked on his own journey of faith and telling. Living and learning. Learning and living.
We sometimes hear and maybe even sometimes even say, “I don’t know enough to talk with someone else about God, about Jesus, about church.” You know more than that other person at the water cooler. Take a chance. Tell about your own life. They and you will be richer for it. And have a good time in your faith. Laugh, cry, smash around sometime. Open yourself to the new. We’ve got a good measure of Apollos’ DNA in us also. Don’t stifle it. In telling your story, in having a friend interact with your own story, you will discover all manner of new stuff for living. As the guy on Men’s Warehouse commercial says, “You’ll like the way you look. I can guarantee it.”
Cephas that’s Peter, Jesus’ devoted, very human, indefatigable friend and follower. Peter, impetuous, never saw a dare he would not take.
Here’s a guy that simply loved Jesus. Anything but perfect. Denied his best friend when the chips were down. Accepted forgiveness. And charged on. Not especially reflective. Certainly not an intellect approaching that of Paul. But that man could live. He could produce. Before he could put a sentence together well, through his thick Galilean accent, he stood up before the Jerusalem County Council and blurted out his faith in Jesus.
I like Paul’s mind. I certainly like his sense of adventure. I hope to have a good time in my life and faith like my ancient cousin, Apollos. Love Jesus? That’s not quite the way I would put it. I surely do find an abundance of stuff for living in and out of my relationship with Jesus. Would I be crucified upside down like legend has it for Peter? I hope not. Would I do it if I had to. Don’t know. But I would not trade my life, my whole life in Jesus for anything else I know about.
Paul, in and through our own growing relationship with God in Christ, offers us the tools for abundant living as seen in these three of our Christian ancestors. I think we are progeny of those three. Their DNA has come down to us even if we don’t know it.
All this is mine. All this is yours. With this much in the bank, why would you worry about being dead? Maybe worry about how you get dead. But not about being dead. The past? Not much you can do about that but muddle on into the present. And nothing but hope for the future regardless of the pot holes along the way. I like that promise: All things are yours. Go figure. Live abundantly.
And all this in Jesus, in Christ. The way of Jesus becomes the test, the filter, the standard, the microscope, the telescope through which we view life. This life we try to figure out through Paul, Apollos and Cephas is about living the life of Jesus. Does that help? It’s not a template. But it is a dependable map. It’s both emotional and operational. (Crossan, prayer 189) These three distant cousins point us to Jesus. Jesus is love, love is justice. That’s what we know and all we need to know.
A head’s up: tomorrow’s sermon will take off from this text and from these notes. But no fair staying home just because you read the notes.
Mike Durst leads the Lectionary discussion in the parlor in the morning since I am preaching as well as making sure the pieces of the service are in place.
As a reminder, I will begin a new series of weekday discussions at Noon on Tuesday, February 22 in the Carpenter’s House. “Living the Questions” has come out with an updated and expanded edition. The twenty-minute DVD clips from some of our favorite theologians and Bible scholars always stir up our faith. Each session is inclusive. That way if you miss one session, you can pick up the new one next time. Depending on how it goes, we will probably run this up until Easter.