The mind of Christ is cross shaped
It’s been a busy week – a busy few weeks in fact. Tomorrow is deadline day for the second semester essays here at Ridley. Essentially, academically speaking, it’s the culmination of my first year. In the last few weeks and days, I’ve written four different essays. There is one on iconography and what it can teach us about using film and imagery in church today, I’ve critiqued the implementation of a church vision, I’ve sketched out an enquirers course and written up why I did it that way and I’ve written an essay about in what sense, if any, was Jesus being punished on the cross when he died. All interesting stuff – I’ve enjoyed it. Even if it’s been flippin hard work at times!
I may be relaxing now but I have a feeling that while I’m finished, there may be one or two of my colleagues pulling an all-nighter tonight to get it all done. *cough* Tiffer *cough*
In the midst of it all, I had to lead and preach at my attachment church’s evening prayer service tonight. It was chucking it down with rain outside and I like to think it was the weather that affected attendance rather than knowledge that I was leading and preaching! 😉
Anyway, the vicar said that my sermon deserved a wider audience. So I am giving it one here! 🙂
Corinth was a city like no other in the ancient world. Two hundred years before Paulâ€™s letter to the Corinthians was written it had been totally destroyed by Rome. For over a hundred years, it had been a wasteland with only ruins around which tourists would come and walk. Then after a hundred years of desolation, Julius Caesar decided to rebuild the city as a Roman colony.
Like the old Corinth, the new city was notable for its two major ports. To the north, a port that connected Corinth to Italy and the West. To the south, a port that connected Corinth to the Eastern Mediterranean and Asia. As a result of its strategic location Corinth became a rich city very quickly. It did not even exist 100 hundred years prior to Paulâ€™s letter and yet by the time Paul wrote it was one of the richest, most affluent cities in the Roman Empire.
Itâ€™s worth bearing in mind as we read this passage, that Corinth had grown up from nothing a hundred years before. There was no traditional aristocracy to speak of, so anyone with a ruthless mind and desire to succeed could make their fortune in Corinth. It was full of â€˜freedmenâ€™; former slaves who had gained their freedom and were now looking to make their own way in the world.
We might describe them as working class but upwardly mobile. If you were being unkind, they were the sort of people we might think of as â€˜nouveau richeâ€™. New moneyâ€¦ a little vulgarâ€¦ competitiveâ€¦ ambitious.
Think Las Vegas, think Hollywoodâ€¦ everyone in town with ambition and desire to be the next big thing. Think schmoozing, massaging a superiorâ€™s ego to get ahead, rubbing shoulders with the rich and the powerful, pulling strings, scratching each otherâ€™s backs, dragging your rivalsâ€™ names through the mud if it meant climbing the ladder. All of this was going on in Corinth, in a society hell-bent on power and success.
We know from Acts chapter 18 that Paul spent 18 months in Corinth when he first went there preaching the gospel and planting the church. That was a considerably longer period of time than was his usual practice and he seems to have invested a large amount of time and energy in the Christians in that city. We donâ€™t know why – perhaps because he saw how that location was so important strategically with so many people coming and going through the ports.
However, some time after he left Corinth, he comes to write this letter to the Corinthian church and things are not looking well. It seems that in Corinth, the cultural values of their society had been brought into the church without questioning and problems had arisen.
Many of the Corinthian Christians seem to have operated with values that were out of kilter with the message of the cross. They wanted honour and status that were so basic to their Corinthian cultural system and values. They wanted power and it was manifesting itself in the Church with ruthlessness, taking sides and declaring themselves followers of Paul or Apollos or one of the other Christian leaders (as weâ€™re told in 1 Corinthians 1), taking one another to court (as weâ€™re told in 1 Corinthians 6), by turning up to church decked out in all their best gear and flaunting their symbols of status and riches (as weâ€™re told in 1 Corinthians 11) and trying for self-advancement in church by flaunting spiritual gifts (as weâ€™re told in 1 Corinthians 12).
In Corinth, secular wisdom said that life was all about power, prestige and popularity and it was playing havoc with Paulâ€™s attempts to build a community based on love, selflessness and the equal worth of every member.
In the second chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul begins to explain to his listeners how Godâ€™s wisdom is not the same thing as human wisdom. In fact, human wisdom may think that Godâ€™s ways are foolish by comparison.
They donâ€™t always make sense humanly speaking. Even today, I am sure you have friends and family who donâ€™t think Christianity makes sense. God became a man? He was born of a virgin? He died on a cross so that my sins could be dealt with? He was raised from the dead?
Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that when he was with them. He didnâ€™t present Christ to them with flashy shows of wisdom. He admits it wasnâ€™t convincing argument. He says he was weak, and fearful and trembling. He says that his preaching wasnâ€™t with â€˜plausible words of wisdomâ€™ â€“ which is just as well as for people like me, because there arenâ€™t many â€˜plausible words of wisdomâ€™ in this sermon either!
Instead, Paul says that he resolved only to know Christ crucified and to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. The only wisdom he could preach was a supernatural wisdom.
It is in the Holy Spirit, says Paul, that Godâ€™s wisdom can be known and revealed. Paul says only you know what is really going on inside you and in the same way, only the Spirit of God can show us what is going on inside God. It is only as we rely on the Holy Spirit who has come to lead us into all truth, that we can have a chance of understanding the things of God.
It is therefore, absolutely vital, for us as Christians that we try and train ourselves to be â€˜spiritual peopleâ€™ as Paul says. Donâ€™t get me wrong, God has indeed given us a brain and he calls us to use it â€“ to think and question and enquire and study and learn from the Bible and from our fellow Christians, that we may better follow Christ.
But if we rely solely on these things, we will be as unspiritual as those people in Corinth who were scrambling over one another in the most undignified manner to get ahead, trying to be the â€˜big man on campusâ€™.
We need to train ourselves to be spiritual people, cultivating our understanding and dependency upon the Holy Spirit. This is not an easy thing to do, as Iâ€™m sure we all know, but it is something Christ calls us to do.
I would encourage you today to consider how you might enhance your own spirituality. Perhaps you might like to think about going on a retreat, or joining one of the Cursillo courses that are advertised at the back, perhaps reading and learning from different traditions of the church or talking to someone from that tradition who can help explain to you what they do to get closer to God.
Perhaps you might like to think about spending time in prayer each day, reading from the Bible, and making sure in that time that you allow space to be quiet, to listen and to invite the Holy Spirit to make his presence known to you.
Paul tells us that if we devote ourselves to following the ways of the Spirit, ready to receive the gifts of Godâ€™s Spirit and to cultivate their use in our spiritual lives, we will develop the mind of Christ. And for the Corinthians, the difference in mindset that this would produce would be huge.
For Godâ€™s wisdom is not the wisdom of the world. The Corinthians could not and should not expect power and success, riches or glory. For to have â€˜the mind of Christâ€™ is to have a cross-shaped mind. It requires putting to death selfish ambition, it requires humbling oneself and giving oneself for others. The Corinthiansâ€™ divisions reveal they are not living the way Christians, taught by the Spirit and endowed with the mind of Christ, should live. Like us, the Corinthians were Christians called into existence by the word of the cross,
Today, we are people who are gathered here today because of what God has done for us and in that, his central and life-giving action in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul tells the Corinthians to embody that humble, self-sacrificing word of the cross in all their relationships. And he tells us to do the same too.