All Talk, No Power.

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? – 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 ESV

Paul wasn’t out to embarrass or demean the believers in Corinth. But he simply wanted to lovingly expose the error of their way. He refers to himself as their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15b ESV). He calls them “my beloved children” (1 Corinthians 4:14b ESV). He wants to remind them that it was he who had originally brought the good news of Jesus Christ to them and presented to them the life-altering message of reconciliation with God made possible through faith in His Son. At each of their conversions they had received not only the forgiveness of their sins, but the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. Their salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. It was only by His grace that they could claim to be His children. And so there was no room for boasting, pride or arrogance of any kind.

Over time, since accepting Christ, they had been privileged to have “countless guides.” Paul is referring to men like Cephas and Apollos, whom God had used to instruct and guide them in the faith. Paul uses the Greek word, παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which refers to…

a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood. (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

But these teachers and tutors were not to be a replacement of the father of the son. He held a special place in the lives of his children. They owed their very existence to him. And it was this thought that Paul seems to have in mind. He is not bragging, but simply stating the fact that had he not come to them with the message of the gospel, they would still be in their sins and separated from God. Paul is not asking for special recognition and, based on everything else he has written, he is not expecting them to idolize him. He only wants them to stop their pointless arguing and prideful posturing. There was a spirit of pride that had begun to permeate the church in Corinth and Paul wanted to put a stop to it.

Interestingly enough, Paul invites them to imitate him. This could easily come across as a prideful statement if we did not know so much about Paul and his life. His was not a life of ease and comfort. He had a reputation for serving Christ in humility and obedience. He was the consummate servant, sacrificing even his health for the sake of the body of Christ. That is why he could say, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16 ESV). And because he could not be with them, he had sent Timothy “to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17b ESV). Paul wasn’t just interested in promoting the teachings of Christ, he wanted to model them. He wanted to show through his very own life what Christ-likeness really looked like. Paul insisted that “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV). Anyone can teach and talk a good game, but if what they teach does not show up in their day-to-day life, their words lack power. The pastor who can craft a good message and wow the audience with his rhetorical skills, but who does not live out the power of the gospel in his life, is all talk, no action. Later on in this letter, Paul challenges the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). So Paul was not making this stuff up. He wasn’t encouraging them to ”do as I say,” but to “do what I do” because he was following the example of Christ.

How many of us could issue that same challenge with confidence? Are our lives a reflection of the life of Christ? Are we following His example? Or are we all talk, no action. They say talk is cheap. I can know all that Christ taught, but if I don’t put it into action, it means nothing. Paul was fully confident that his life was worthy of emulation because his life was modeled after that of Christ. He was not claiming perfection or sinlessness. He was not putting himself up as an icon of virtue or moral excellence. He was a work in progress. God was continually molding and making him into the likeness of Christ. He told the believers in Philippi, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). At one time, Paul had told Timothy, his young protegé in the faith, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT). Paul was an example of the patience and mercy of God. He had not deserved salvation, but God had graciously extended it to him. His life was an example of the mercy and grace of God, but also of the presence of the Holy Spirit as His sanctifying power continued to change his life.

Paul was so passionate about this issue, that he threatened to show up like a father ready to discipline his wayward children. He loved them too much to watch them live their lives in arrogant pride rather than in humble submission to God’s divine will for them. The time for talk was over. It was a time for action and for the life-altering power of the Spirit to show up in their daily behavior.

The Pervasive Presence of Pride.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. – 1 Corinthians 4:6-13 ESV

While some may have preferred the rhetoric of Apollos over that of Paul, there is little doubt that Paul had a way with words. He could craft a sentence with the best of them, choosing his words carefully and cleverly, to see that his point was clearly received. He was adept at using sarcasm if he deemed it necessary to get his message across. And in this passage, he wield his words like a sword to cut his audience down to size, because they had a formidable pride problem. Multiple times in this letter, he uses the Greek word,  φυσιόω (physioō), which means “to be puffed up, to bear one’s self loftily, be proud” (“G5448 – physioō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). The problem within the church in Corinth wasn’t just that they were taking sides by preferring one spiritual leader over another, it was that their motivation was based on pride. It was an inherent desire to see themselves as somehow better or spiritually superior to one another. The very moment they chose to follow a particular leader, deeming him somehow better than the other, they were guilty of judging one another. If a fellow member of the church didn’t side with them in their choice of spiritual leader, they would deem him as less enlightened. We already know that their factionalism was causing quarrels within the church. So Paul boldly and bluntly confronts their pride problem.

Paul says, with tongue planted firmly in his cheek, “You think you already have everything you need. You think you are already rich. You have begun to reign in God’s kingdom without us!” (1 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). They were acting as if they had already arrived. They had nothing more to learn. Nothing to gain. Rather than acting as humble servants and stewards, they were pridefully posturing themselves as spiritually superior over their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s words remind me of those spoken by Jesus against the church in Laodicea: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17 ESV). Jesus went on to tell them, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Revelation 3:18 ESV). Like the church in Corinth, they had a pride problem as well

Paul goes on to contrast the attitude of the Corinthians with that of the men who had been ministering the gospel to them.

Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ!

We are weak, but you are so powerful! You are honored, but we are ridiculed.

Even now we go hungry and thirsty, and we don’t have enough clothes to keep warm.

We are often beaten and have no home.

We work wearily with our own hands to earn our living.

We bless those who curse us.

We are patient with those who abuse us.

We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment. – 1 Corinthians 4:10-13 NLT

In a way, the Corinthians were living as if their future reward was to be experienced in this life. They were acting as if they had already arrived spiritually. They saw themselves as wise and powerful. They put a high value in honor and esteem. Material things were important to them. And yet Paul paints a very different picture of what the life of a believer should look like. Our time on this earth should be marked by humility, service, and even suffering, as we follow Christ. Our relationship with Christ will lead to us being despised, rejected, and ridiculed. We will be misunderstood and misrepresented. Paul displays a high degree of transparency when he states, “ I sometimes think God has put us apostles on display, like prisoners of war at the end of a victor’s parade, condemned to die. We have become a spectacle to the entire world—to people and angels alike” (1 Corinthians 4:9 NLT). He didn’t seen himself at the head of the parade, marching in triumph and being lauded as a victorious general, but as a captive prisoner, being dragged in chains and humiliation before the cheers and jeers of the enemy.

Following Christ is not about pride and prominence. It should not lead to arrogance and a sense of having arrived. Our journey to heaven will be marked by pain and suffering, even loss. Like Jesus, our glorification must be preceded by humiliation. Suffering must come before glory. But the Corinthians had chosen to reverse the order. They wanted to lead the parade. They desired to be recognized and rewarded now, not later. They were choosing honor over humility, present recognition over future reward, the praise of men over the praise of God. Which brings us back to the words of Jesus spoken against the church in Laodicea:

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  – Revelation 3:15-16 NLT

Their love for God was lukewarm. Their attitude toward their call as followers of Christ was apathetic. Like the Corinthian believers, they had become dangerously satisfied with who they were and how far they had come. But Paul, like Jesus, was not willing to allow them to remain in a state of spiritual complacency marked by misplaced pride. He desired more for them. He demanded more of them. Because God was not done with them.

Faithfulness, Not Fame.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 ESV

Paul is still concerned with the divisive factions within the body of Christ in Corinth. In his estimation, the believers in Corinth have a faulty view of Christian leadership. They are basing their assessments of those who minister to them on worldly criteria. In the end, some had chosen to follow Paul, some Apollos and others, Cephas. It had become a popularity contest. But Paul wanted them to understand that each of these men, himself included, were servants of Christ. The Greek word Paul uses is ὑπηρέτης (hypēretēs) and it refers to “an underrower or subordinate rower” – one of the slaves who served as a rower in the hold of a ship’s galley (“G5257 – hypēretēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). They served under the direction and authority of a superior. This same Greek word was used to describe a servant or “any one who aids another in any work”.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to see himself and the other men who ministered to them as servants of Christ. He even compares them to household stewards – οἰκονόμος (oikonomos) – the manager “to whom the head of the house or proprietor has intrusted the management of his affairs” (“G3623 – oikonomos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul, Apollos and Cephas were nothing more than stewards of the message of the gospel entrusted to them by Jesus. And Paul tells the Corinthians, “This is how one should regard us” (1 Corinthians 4:1a ESV). There was no reason to idolize these men. And Paul also wanted the Corinthians to know that there was no reason for them to view these men as somehow working for them. They were “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1b ESV). And as a steward, Paul knew that he had only one person to whom he must answer: God. His ministry was being judged by God, and that was all that mattered to him. He was determined to be faithful in the execution of his God-given assignment to reveal “the mysteries of God.”

At the heart of the factionalism that existed in the Corinthian church was a spirit of judgment. In order to elevate one man over another, the believers in Corinth were judging their value and worth based on external criteria. They were choosing sides solely on the merit of things such as speaking skills, charisma, physical appearance, intelligence, persuasiveness and popularity. They each had their favorite. Some may have preferred Apollos because he was a dynamic speaker. Others chose to follow Cephas because he seemed more in touch with the common man. Those who followed Paul did so because they found something about him that they liked. But Paul said, “As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority” (1 Corinthians 4:3 NLT). He didn’t care what they thought about him. He wasn’t concerned with their evaluation of his abilities. In fact, Paul wasn’t even willing to trust his own judgment of himself. He knew himself to be a lousy judge of his performance or effectiveness. While he may feel free to give himself a high score for his efforts, he knew his evaluation meant nothing. Which is what led him to say, “My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide” (1 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). Paul followed the advice he had given the believers in Rome, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3 ESV). And even then, after having judged himself soberly and seriously, Paul knew that the only judgment that mattered was what Christ would have to say when He returned.

And he warned the Corinthians believers to “not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes” (1 Corinthians 4:5a ESV). In other words, they were not to pre-judge prematurely. James gives us a sobering warning against judging one another: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12 ESV). It wasn’t up to the Corinthians to judge one man’s effectiveness over another. It wasn’t their responsibility to determine the worth or value of one of God’s servants based on outward appearances or earthly criteria. They needed to remember that God alone “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Corinthians 4:5b ESV). God Himself claims, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10 ESV). And according to that same passage, we are incapable of knowing the condition of our own hearts, let alone the heart of someone else. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

Just as Paul was attempting to be a faithful servant of Christ and a trustworthy steward of the mysteries of God, he called on the Corinthians to faithfully focus their attention on God and not men. They were to see themselves as followers of Christ and Him alone. They were to respect Paul, Cephas and Apollos as servants of Christ, but not revere and worship them. Like the believers in Corinth, we have the habit of making much of men. We also tend to judge our leaders based on external, worldly factors. We can be easily swayed by soaring rhetoric and lofty words. We can be taken in by a winsome personality and fall prey to the cult of personality. But Paul would have us remain focused on the message, not the messenger. What makes the good news great is its content, not the communicator. Men don’t save, God does. Men don’t change lives, the gospel does. And long after Paul, Cephas and Apollos disappeared from the scene, the message of salvation through Christ continues to spread. Many messengers have come and gone, but the message remains the same, and the promises of God, unwavering.


Called To Oneness.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ESV

Back in chapter one, verse 8, Paul said, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Unbelievers cannot understand the wisdom of God revealed in the death of Christ – namely, that one man’s death could provide eternal life for those believed in Him. Now, Paul states that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” Man’s wisdom doesn’t impress God and it will never make anyone right with God. If anything, the wisdom of man becomes a barrier to accepting the truth of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The wisdom of men is futile and totally incapable of remedying mankind’s sin problem and state of condemnation before a holy and just God. So why, Paul asks, would we make much of men. Why would we create false idols out of men and women, worshiping them for the role they played in our salvation, while overlooking the fact that it was God who sent His Son to die, gave His message of reconciliation to those He called, and sent His Spirit to open the hearts of those who heard that message. No man has the right to boast of his usefulness to God, and no one should elevate the messenger over the One who sent the message.

Paul’s real concern has to do with division in the body of Christ. He started out his letter with the plea, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). He accused them of quarreling and bickering over which man they followed – “each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Their disunity was causing divisiveness. So Paul reminds them that they are the temple of God. Not just as individuals, but as the local body of Christ. He is speaking to the church, not the individual. How do we know this? Because in the Greek language, the personal pronoun, “you” is plural, not singular. Peter confirms the idea that the local church is the temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God.

“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said the same thing:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

As God’s temple, the local church is to be valued and protected. If anyone does anything to harm or destroy the integrity of the church, they will answer to God. Paul warns them, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV). Disunity destroys. It damages from within. We have been called by God to love one another, not debate and display contempt for one another. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of their oneness in Christ.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

In the prayer He prayed in the garden on the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked the Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV). It is our unity that displays the reality of the church’s role as God’s temple. God alone can bring together people of every age, from every walk of life, ethnicity, economic strata, and social background, and mold them into one family. All sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 NLT). Each of these men had been given to the church by God. They were to be seen as gifts from God intended for the building up of the body of Christ. As Paul told the Ephesian church:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

And God gave these gifted individuals to the church in order that it might grow and prosper, “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). Disunity is destructive. Divisiveness is counterproductive. Boasting in men robs God of glory and the body of Christ of its power. Making celebrities out of God’s servants ends up deifying them and diminishing the effectiveness of the local church. The church may grow in numbers, but it will lack the power of God’s Spirit. When we make much of men, we experience less of God.

Tangible, Testifying Faith.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ESV

For Paul, the issue was first, always and only Christ. Ever since his conversion on the road to Damascus, he had made it his life’s mission to carry the message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to the world. Here he refers to Jesus Christ as the foundation, the solid rock on which men and women are to build the rest of their lives. It is belief in the gospel message of salvation through Jesus that provides the bedrock upon which a truly worthy life can be built. It is likely that Paul had in mind the parable that Jesus had told:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. – Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

Our faith in Jesus has a starting point and an ending point. It begins when we place our faith in Him, but it does not stop there. We are to build our lives with Jesus as the foundation. Paul boldly claimed to have helped lay the proper foundation by preaching Christ and Him crucified. He had given the believers in Corinth the truth regarding salvation through Christ and Him alone, and they had received it. Now it was time for them to do something with their faith. They were to build on it. Their faith was to produce fruit – tangible, visible, measurable fruit. Whatever they built would be discernible to all those around them. The value of the construction materials they used would be apparent to all. Speaking metaphorically, Paul says that some would use gold, silver, and precious stones – objects of worth and beauty. But others would choose to use wood, hay, and straw – materials with little value or staying power. The second group illustrates those who cut corners and refuse to invest adequately, either out of laziness or a lack of concern. Their faith means so little to them that they refuse to invest the time and resources it deserves. James describes these two groups well.

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:17-18 NLT

Our fundamental, foundational faith in Christ is to be built upon through a life of good deeds. And those acts are to be visible to all those around us. James refers to them as good deeds. They are to impact others. They can be seen and experienced by others. And one day, they will be judged by God. Paul reminds us, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Corinthians 3:13 ESV). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). The Greek word Paul uses is βῆμα (bēma). It refers to “the official seat of a judge” (“G968 – bēma – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). The “day” to which Paul refers is that day when all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ – the Bema Seat. On that day, we will have our works judged, all those things we have done since coming to faith in Christ. This is not a judgment to determine righteousness. We will stand before Him fully forgiven and completely righteous because of His death for us on the cross. But each person’s works will be judged as to their value and worth and they will “receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 

What we do with our faith in Christ is essential. What we build upon our faith in Christ is to have lasting value. If we take our faith in Christ and build a life that is marked by selfishness, greed, materialism, hate, bigotry, pride, and hypocrisy, others will see it and one day Christ will expose and judge us for it. Those worthless works will be burned up. They will be proven to be of no eternal value because they were done in the flesh, not the power of the Spirit of God. But if we build a life that is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-conrol, others will be able to see it and Christ will one day reward us for it. Those deeds are the fruit of the Spirit. They will last. They will survive the fire of God’s judgment because they are like gold, silver and precious stones – priceless and eternal.

What we build upon our faith in Christ is extremely important. It reveals a lot about us. It shows the condition of our heart and the priorities of our life. Our salvation provides us with a solid and secure foundation. We have the assurance of our eternal security. We no longer have to worry about future condemnation or fear death. But that should motivate us to live lives that are worthy of our calling. We should desire that our behavior reflects our status as God’s children and our possession of God’s Spirit. Our faith must become tangible and discernible, testifying to the change that has taken place within us.

Acting Like Infants.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 ESV

There is nothing particularly wrong with acting like a child – if you are one. But we all know how awkward it is to be around someone who refuses to act their age. Watching a grown man behave like a teenager is painful and extremely disappointing. It’s obvious to all that something is wrong with his behavior. He has refused to grow up and own up to the responsibilities that come with adulthood. And his immature actions usually end up impacting every area of his life. The same can be said for spiritual immaturity. It’s not it’s wrong. Every believer starts out as a spiritual infant in Christ. We begin the journey of faith as metaphorical newborns who require what Paul refers to as the “milk” of God’s Word. This is normal and natural. It is to be expected. It was Peter who wrote, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). There is a time in every believer’s life when their spiritual diet must be simple and easily digestible. But as they grow, they are to move on to the “meat” of the Word. They are to grow up into salvation, learning to grasp the depth of God’s love, the significance of His grace, their complete dependence upon His strength, and the full weight of His call to holiness. The author of the book of Hebrews had some strong words to say to the recipients of is letter:

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. – Hebrews 5:12-13 NLT

They were stuck on the basics, the elemental principles of God’s Word. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God and that He had died for their sins. They understood that they were completely dependent upon Him for salvation. They had believed that by placing their faith in Him they would be restored to a right relationship with God. But their knowledge of God’s Word had not gone beyond that point. Their grasp of all that God had done and all that He had in store for them remained limited and so their behavior remained so as well. Paul had given the Ephesian believers a goal to “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). They were to grow in Christ-likeness, becoming increasingly more like Him in their daily conduct. And the result of this spiritual growth would be clearly evident.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT

The problem with the believers in Corinth was that their behavior was revealing their spiritual immaturity. They were bickering and boasting, fighting and fuming over who was more spiritual and who had the best leader. Paul said, “there is jealousy and strife among you” and that was proof that they were “of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (1 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). They were acting like children, arguing over things that didn’t matter and that only revealed their lack of understanding of the ways of God. They were making much of men rather than much of God. They misunderstood that these men were merely messengers, acting on behalf of God. This led Paul to ask them, “who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us” (1 Corinthians 3:5 ESV). They were nothing more than instruments in the hand of God. Any value they had came from God’s decision to use them to accomplish His will. In a subsequent letter to the Corinthians, Paul would state:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NLT

A more mature believer has a growing awareness that God is the source of all that we enjoy regarding our faith. It was He who called us, not a man. It was His Son who died for us. It was His Spirit who opened our eyes so that we could understand the truth of the gospel. It is His Word that provides us with insight into His nature and daily guidance for our journey of faith. And it is God who gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that he, Cephas and Apollos were nothing more than “God’s fellow workers” and they were “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9 ESV). Growing believers have a growing understanding of and appreciation for God’s work in their lives. They grow in their appreciation for His love and mercy. They grow in their gratitude for His unfailing forgiveness. They grow in their desire to please Him, not in order to earn His love, but because they are loved. They grow in their dependence upon Him. They grow in their desire for Him. They grow in their hunger for His Word. They grow in their trust in His promises. They grow into their salvation. And all this growth shows up in their behavior.

The Mind of Christ.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 ESV

The wisdom of God is foolishness to men. The idea that a divine being sent His Son to live as a human being and die on a cross in order to pay for the sins of mankind is ludicrous to them. It is a delusional fable at best, a diabolical lie at worst. But Paul would argue that the problem lies not with the message or with the intent of the messenger. It is that those to whom the message is shared are incapable of receiving it. They can’t understand it. It would be like an American trying to understand a message spoken to him in a foreign language. The message and the messenger could both be accurate, but the meaning would be lost because the one to whom the message is being given doesn’t speak the language. The message of the cross is heavenly in nature. It is a spiritually based message that requires interpretation by the Spirit of God. Natural man, as Paul describes him, cannot understand the words and wisdom of God. Paul refers to him as “natural” simply to say that he is not spiritual or of the spirit. Anyone who has not placed their faith in Christ ia a natural man or woman. They lack the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. And as Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). The Spirit of God speaks wisdom from God. He reveals the mind of God. “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11 ESV).

It is impossible for natural man, under the control of his own sin nature, to comprehend the mind of God. Even those who have placed their faith in Christ as their Savior had to have help from God’s Spirit in order to believe. They had to have their eyes opened and their hearts regenerated by the Spirit in order to comprehend the life-changing nature of the gospel message. “The natural person can, of course, understand the gospel and experience salvation but only because the Holy Spirit illuminates his or her understanding” (Robert A. Pyne, “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:598 (April-June 1993):204-5).

And the second the Spirit illumines the eyes of the natural person so that they can see and accept the wonderful message of God’s gracious gift of salvation through Christ, He comes to dwell within them. They go from being natural to spiritual. The word Paul uses is πνευματικός (pneumatikos) and it means “one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God” (“G4152 – pneumatikos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Because of the Spirit’s presence within them, they have the capacity to understand the things of the Spirit, or as Paul refers to them, spiritual truths. It is not the wisdom or eloquence of men that make the things of God accessible and understandable. It is the Spirit of God. It is not human wisdom that makes spiritual truths discernible to men, but the Spirit of God. Even Paul admits, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT). Even a spiritual person who attempts to speak spiritual truth without the Spirit’s help will end up relying upon human wisdom and his or her message will fall on deaf ears. It will lack power. It will be devoid of truth. It may be eloquent, impressive, even well-received, but it will not communicate the wisdom of God or contain the power of God.

One of the primary benefits of having the Spirit of God within us is the ability He provides to discern and evaluate all things. We have been given the Word of God and the Spirit of God in order that we might understand the will of God. Jesus told His disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 NLT). With the Spirit’s help, we can accurately evaluate and determine God’s will for any given circumstance. The Spirit guides and directs. He comforts and consoles. He provides strength when needed and patience when waiting is necessary. We have a supernatural source of wisdom that allows us to know the mind of God. In fact, Paul simply says, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16b ESV). With the Spirit’s help, we can know what Christ knows. We can see life as He does. We can live as He did. In other words, we can live Christ-like lives here and now. We have the capacity to live holy, righteous lives even though we still have our old sin natures and live in a fallen, sinful world. And the world will not understand us. Natural men and women will be incapable of discerning our ways. They will misunderstand us and be turned off by us. Our lives will make them uncomfortable. Our pursuit of holiness will leave them baffled. Our set-apartness will make them feel judged and so they will attempt to judge us in return. But because they are natural and not spiritual, they will never be able to understand what motivates and drives us. Our love for the Word of God will make no sense to them. Our trust in the will of God will seem naive to them. Our hope in our future salvation by God will come across as little more than wishful thinking to them. But we have the Spirit of God and, as a result, we have the mind of Christ.

The Wisdom of the Cross.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 ESV

Earlier in this same chapter, when Paul had written, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV), he was stating that the knowledge of and belief in Christ and His death was all he needed to know. It was the very wisdom of God revealed to men and was sufficient to make men right with Him. It was a secret and hidden wisdom that had been unknowable up until the point that God had revealed it to men through His Spirit. Paul claimed that if the rulers in power when Jesus was alive had understood this wisdom, they would not have crucified Him. But in their human wisdom, they had been ignorant of the reality that Jesus really was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. From Pontus Pilate and Herod the king to the high priest of Israel, none of them were able to recognize who Jesus was and what God was doing through Him. Their human wisdom proved insufficient. And while they believed they were doing the right thing by eliminating Jesus as a threat to their way of life, they were only accomplishing the divine will of God. Peter made this point clear in his prayer after having been released from arrest by the high priest for preaching the resurrection of Jesus.

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” – Acts 4:27-28 ESV

Only those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, recognizing Him as the Son of God who died on the cross in their place, can recognize the wisdom of God in this seemingly hopeless event. And only the Spirit of God can make the wisdom of Jesus’ death make sense. It was not until the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost that they were able to recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan of redemption. Jesus had to die. Without His death, there would have been no means by which men might be restored to a right relationship with God. As the writer of Hebrews states, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Jesus’ death had made no sense to the disciples in the days immediately following His crucifixion. In their minds, the whole cause for which they had signed up, had been an abysmal failure. Their Messiah had been murdered and all hopes tied to His kingdom died with Him. His death had meant a death of their dreams. But they had been wrong. God’s ways are not our ways. His wisdom is greater than ours. His Son’s death, viewed as a tragedy from the perspective of the disciples, was actually a victory over sin and death. Jesus had not been a helpless victim, but a conquering King. As Paul states later on in this letter:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
   “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV

Quoting from the prophet, Isaiah, Paul states, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV). The death of Jesus had been a part of God’s divine redemptive plan long before the creation of the world. Even before sin entered into the world, God had ordained that His Son would die for the sins of mankind. And our ability to see and understand this reality is made possible by the Spirit of God. It is only with the help of the Spirit of God that man can understand the wisdom of God. Otherwise, it all sounds like foolishness. As Paul said earlier, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 ESV). The only way we can comprehend the wisdom of God in the cross of Christ is through the insight provided by the Spirit of God. He is the one who helps us “understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). As the Spirit of God, He alone can understand the thoughts and ways of God, and He makes known to us the wisdom of God – “interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV).

Paul’s use of the phrase, “those who are spiritual” is not a reference to those who happen to be somehow more mature or further along in their faith. He is simply referring to all those who have placed their faith in Christ and in whom God has placed His Spirit. It is the presence of the Spirit of God within us that makes us spiritual. He provides us with the capacity to understand the mind of God – “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10b ESV). It is the Spirit of God who helps us comprehend the wisdom behind the cross of Christ. With His assistance, we can understand how death brought about life, how seeming tragedy resulted in victory, how our condemnation has turned into a guarantee of our future glorification, and how we can enjoy the unfailing love of God rather than the inescapable wrath of God.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV

Impactful, But Not Impressive.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV

As followers of Christ, we can be easily impressed. We can fall prey to persuasive words and convincing arguments. We can find ourselves becoming fans of various teachers, preachers, and religious leaders. Style and charisma can become the primary criteria by which we judge a speaker. If we’re not careful, we can allow entertainment value to become the primary factor by which we critique a sermon – trumping biblical accuracy or spiritual efficacy. We can become fans of men rather than followers of Christ. We can elevate our desire for comfort over our need for conviction. Paul had warned Timothy that the day was coming when this would be exactly what would happen.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

The situation in Corinth had probably not reached this point, but Paul saw that there was a disturbing trend taking place. The believers there had allowed their personal preferences to become a point of division within the church. Some were claiming to be followers of Paul, others of Cephas or Apollos. And evidently, the primary criteria behind their particular preferences had more to do with the style of the messenger than the content of their message. So Paul attempts to remind his readers that his initial ministry among them had been anything but impressive. He reflected back on that occasion, recalling that “my message and my preaching were very plain” (1 Corinthians 2:4a NLT). Rather than delivering cleverly worded sermons and powerfully persuasive arguments, Paul exhibited weakness, fear and trembling. He had been anything but impressive. But he had made an impact. Why? He provides the answer. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV). Paul wasn’t interested in fame or recognition. He wasn’t out to build a personal following or win a popularity contest. He had gone to Corinth in order to share the testimony of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. And the message he shared had made an impact on the lives of the people of Corinth. But not because of Paul’s oratory skills or well-articulated arguments.

What had happened in Corinth as a result of Paul’s initial visit had been the work of the Spirit of God. “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4b ESV). It had had nothing to do with Paul’s powers of persuasion. Their radical life change had been the result of the message of the cross and the regenerating work of the Spirit of God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul pointed out that “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV). Paul’s primary goal had been to preach Christ and the message of His crucifixion and resurrection. Later on in this same letter, Paul outlines exactly what he preached to them:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV

It was this message and their acceptance of it, that had changed their lives. It had had nothing to do with lofty speech or human wisdom. The message of the gospel was not man-made, but God-ordained. The power of the gospel lies not in the oratory skills of the messenger, but in the simple, life-altering truth of the message. The gospel doesn’t need to be tricked out, spiced up, or improved upon. It doesn’t need better music surrounding it, brighter lights or the latest technology to help it, or an entertaining delivery to improve it. Of course, it is a sin to bore anyone with the gospel. It was Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life who once said, “We believe it is sinful to bore kids with the gospel. Christ is the strongest, grandest, most attractive personality to ever grace the earth. But a careless messenger with the wrong method can reduce all this magnificence to the level of boredom …. It is a crime to bore anyone with the gospel.”

There is no doubt that a poorly prepared sermon can obscure the message of the gospel. But at the same time, an overly produced, entertainment-driven worship service can also overwhelm the simplicity of the life-altering message of salvation in Christ alone. It seems that Paul would have preferred the power of the Spirit of God over his own powers of persuasion. He had seen the life-impacting nature of the good news of Jesus Christ firsthand. For him, it was essential that the faith of believers rest “not in human wisdom but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5 NLT). The power of the gospel resides in the simple message of Christ crucified, not in the wisdom and eloquence of men. Paul said, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24 ESV). There will always be those who balk at the message of the cross. They will see it as foolish and nonsensical. But there will also be those who find its message impactful and life-altering, and their transformed lives will give ample evidence that its power comes from God, not men.

Foolish, Weak and Despised.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

The division taking place within the church at Corinth was based on pride. They were boastfully claiming, “‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). They were each seeing themselves as somehow better or more spiritual because of who they followed. They were even bragging about who had baptized them, claiming to have been baptized in their name. Which had led Paul to say, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name” (1 Corinthians 1:14-15 ESV). Even those who were claiming to follow Christ were emphasizing His teaching more than His role as Messiah. They had become followers of men and adherents of their particular teachings, rather than followers of the very one whose death had made their salvation possible. 

So Paul felt compelled to remind them of pre-conversion state. For the most part, none of them had been wise, wealthy or powerful. They had not been from the upper crust of society. They weren’t known for their intelligence and erudition. Their influence and power had been minimal. In fact, Paul flatly states that they had been foolish, weak and despised. Not exactly a flattering assessment. But Paul’s objective was to get them to see the “foolish” nature of their salvation, not stroke their egos. There had been nothing about them that warranted what God had done for them. Even from an worldly perspective, they had not been deserving of God’s amazing grace and mercy. They had not been the brightest and best, the richest and wisest, the movers and shakers of society. When Jesus ministered on the earth, it was not from among the wealthy, wise and powerful that His disciples had come. They had been lowly fishermen, tax collectors and common men. Those that had followed Him during His three years of earthly ministry had been, for the most part, from the peasant class. And this trend had continued long after Christ’s resurrection. Paul reminded them, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT).

None of them had cause for boasting. They had done nothing to deserve their salvation. And their pride over who it was that they followed was misplaced. Later on in this same letter, Paul will tell them, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). It was only as Paul displayed Christ-likeness that they were to emulate his life. It wasn’t supposed to be about Paul, but about the Christ-like character he displayed. Paul wanted them to remember that their status as children of God had been the work of God. It had been God who had called them, which is why Paul tells them, “consider your calling.” The Greek word Paul used was βλέπω (blepō) and it means, “to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to a thing, to consider, contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully, examine” (“G991 – blepō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul wanted them to take a long, hard look at their calling by God. So he reminds them three times:

God chose what is foolish…

God chose what is weak…

 God chose what is low and despised…

God chose. It was His doing. Not based on any merit or worth on the ones chosen, but solely based on His divine mercy and grace. And Paul reminds them that it was “because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV). Not because of themselves and not because of Paul, Cephas or Apollos. Those men had been nothing more than instruments in the hands of God. It had been God who had made it possible for the believers in Corinth to have a relationship with Jesus. And it had been Jesus who had revealed to them the wisdom of God. By His death on the cross, Jesus had opened up the way for men to enjoy righteousness, sanctification and redemption. With His death on the cross, Jesus had taken on the sins of mankind. Those who place their faith in Christ have had their sins imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to them. They now stand before God as righteous because of Christ. And they are going through the process of sanctification, their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And ultimately, they will enjoy their final redemption or release from the power of sin in their lives, when God glorifies them.

There is no man who can make these things possible. No human teacher can provide us with righteousness before God. No pastor can transform us into the likeness of Christ. No evangelist or theologian can make our glorification possible. These things are all the work of God, just as our salvation was. He called. He chose. He justified. He is sanctifying. And He will redeem. So if we are going to boast, we need to boast in God. We need to brag about all that He has done, is doing and will do in the future. He made our salvation possible. He has made our daily sanctification obtainable. And He will one day accomplish the seemingly impossible: our glorification. We owe it all to Him.