As it was for the new Christian in Corinth, 65AD, so it is for us today. We come into the kingdom dressed in our finest rags. We come from other churches, other traditions and other cultures. We want to settle into this new life and not have to think too much, not have to wrestle all the time with half-truths and untruths. We want to do away with doubt—and that’s a good thing.
And so, many of us thought that coming to Jesus would solve all mysteries and there would be no more doubts, no more confusion. No need to wrestle.
But we were wrong. There is still wrestling to be done. Not least of which is the wrestling with our own rags: Our pride and our tendency to cling to untruths and half-truths taught early in life.
If you were a born and bred Corinthian, then you would probably have spent half your life listening to an endless string of street preachers. Eloquent men all claiming to be speaking for their god. Listening to these guys was a pastime.
It was what made the Corinthian marketplace such a buzz of conversation, banter, debate and lofty thought.
Now, you would know that these men were not all speaking the same message, but you would learn to live with the inconsistencies you heard and probably just concoct your own faith from the collection of half-truths and catchy one-liners you had heard over the years.
One day somebody brings a new message to you. You have heard bits and pieces of it around town but now you get the full story and these truths overtake you. Here, there is real power, real meaning and real hope.
But what to do with all those other things you were taught by your teachers and by all those other well-respected members of the community? Which things are to be kept and treasured and which are to be tossed in the fire and unlearned?
Into this Corinthian state of mind walked the Apostle Paul.
He taught the Corinthian Christians that there was a way to stay on track, to work out what comes from God, what was true and what was not. And that way was the Gospel.
Paul taught that whatever proceeds from the Father always exalts Jesus Christ. It always keeps Jesus at the centre.
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)
We see this with every problem that Paul had to deal with in Corinth. In each case, Paul started with the gospel and worked his way out from there.
Got division? Put the Gospel on the table and work out from there.
Is Christ divided? No. Were you baptised into the name of Paul? No. Is there more than one body? No. Then quit making divisions where none in exist in the body of Christ.
So there’s some suspect sexual activity taking place. Is it acceptable? No. Why?
Paul doesn’t tell them to quit their porn because it’s not conducive to human flourishing. No mention of disease or broken families.
He tells them that the reason they should quit their immorality is that Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7) and that means that all the leaven in the house has to go.
Or, says Paul, try this: Apart from the resurrection it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. But if Christ was raised bodily from the dead then your body, the one you’re currently polluting in thought and deed, will be raised also (1 Corinthians 15:18, 21-22). Therefore, honour God with your body.
What about this business of eating food offered to idols? Should we eat it or not? Paul says, go right ahead. On what grounds? On the grounds that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, from whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Corinthians 8:6).
What about those who freak out about this kind of food? Paul says don’t eat in such a way as to destroy the weaker mans’ faith. What are his grounds for this instruction? Christ died for such a man and to wound his conscience is to sin against Christ (1 Corinthians 8:12).
Can I have two wives? Well, how many does Jesus have?
Do I have to be ready to forgive my enemy and suffer a loss on his account? Well, who did Christ die for? He died for His enemies (Romans 5:10). Go and do likewise (2 Corinthians 2:7).
With each pastoral issue, Paul puts the gospel on the table and addresses the problem through that gospel. As a pastor, Paul had nothing to say but that which flowed from Christ crucified. Everything else worked its way out from there.
If the gospel teaches us how to think about anything then it teaches us how to think about everything. It teaches us which rags from our former experience need a wash and which need to be thrown away.
All of which turns on the glory of God through Christ crucified.