“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 3:21-23 ESV
At the time of Paul’s writing, the ancient Corinthian church was a fellowship in crisis. Divisive hero worship among the people, the abuse and misuse of spiritual gifts, rampant sexual immorality, taking one another up on charges to the pagan authorities, and even lapses into outright idolatry provide just a sampling of how far the church had slipped in Paul’s absence. By all accounts, the Corinthians were in real trouble. And they stood guilty of each and every accusation. Were they divided into factions, each thinking their favorite teacher preached a superior Gospel? Yes! Did they abuse one another in the local court system? Yes! Did they practice rampant sexual immorality? Yes! Did they corrupt the Lord’s table into a feast for the rich while the poor went hungry? Absolutely. This fellowship was covered head to toe in the mire of scandal, abuse, and spiritual lethargy. The situation was so dire, that Paul wrote to exhort and correct the Corinthian fellowship.
How does an apostle of the Lord begin to unwind a twisted mess such as the Corinthian church? How do you correct a hopelessly erring church fellowship? Did Paul threaten hellfire and brimstone to fall on their heads? Did he question their salvation in the first place or urge them all to get saved anew? Did he prescribe a list of new laws to be followed under the penalty of spiritual death? Did Paul go to Mt. Sinai for fresh tablets of stone? No. Paul did not bring so much as one new requirement or Gospel condition to bear against the Corinthians. He understood the true and saving Gospel of Christ has no need of alteration, no need for additional conditions. Christ had satisfied God’s wrath on behalf of His church, even the notorious Corinthian fellowship! Paul would deal with the Corinthians using the very message he delivered to them when the church was founded. He would once again tell the truth of Christ’s precious Gospel, the Power of God unto salvation! Paul went back to Mt. Calvary.
With all of the issues facing the Corinthians, Paul reminded them of the sufficiency of Christ and His Gospel work. He wrote, “let no one boast in men.” The true source of righteousness is not found among the fallen, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The righteousness from above, Christ’s righteousness imputed to His people, makes us “acceptable in the beloved,” giving us rock solid assurance that “we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” And it is in the face of such glorious truth that the many petty divisions and factions among God’s people are seen for what they really are: sinful distractions. Again and again, it is the Gospel that draws us back into right fellowship with God. It is the Gospel proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit which causes the stiff necked and rebellious believer to put away childish things and rest at the foot of Calvary.
Paul understood the Gospel to be much more than a mere entrance ticket into the kingdom of God. The Gospel makes the crooked paths straight. The Gospel rights all the wrongs, makes bright day from the utter darkness of night, turning away all wrath. It is the Gospel that makes the dead live anew. It is the Gospel that settles for all time the question of righteousness for God’s people! It is the Gospel that reminds God’s children of the great love He has for them, of the better way, of the clearer path, of a life to be lived in appreciation of God’s grace in Christ.
As the Corinthians divided among themselves into factions, Paul reminded them that Christ was not divided and that His work on Calvary brings His people together under His name alone. The Gospel calls for unity in truth and not division. As the Corinthians dabbled in sexual immorality, Paul reminded them that for these exact same sins, the wrath of God would soon be poured out on the world. Sexual sin is an affront to the physical body as well as to Christ Himself, who loved His church and died to save it. As Christians, they were washed, they were sanctified by the blood of Christ. And it is the Gospel which calls the church away from the pitfalls of sexual sin and toward godly sexual love in the context of loving marriage, the very imagery used of God to describe God’s relationship with the church!
Paul exhorts the Corinthians to put away childish things by following in the footsteps of He who knew no sin, yet became sin for us. Love is the better way. Who but Christ could teach so perfectly what it means to love? So then, as Paul so ably exhorted the Corinthians, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
How do you correct a hopelessly erring church fellowship? Not only is there no need to laden the people of God down with legalistic conditions and laws, it would be an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s Gospel work to do so! The Gospel of God’s Sovereign Grace in Christ is the all-sufficient message of the all sufficient work of the altogether lovely Savior, Christ the Lord. Nothing more is needed because “you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.” And, praise God, it is the love of God in Christ that teaches us a better way. It is the love of Christ which motivates us to help not hurt our brothers and to see our utter helplessness and total need for His grace and mercy. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” And truly in their day as in ours, love is the better way!