“All things are yours…”
Paul said this twice (in I Corinthians 3:21 and 22), couched in what might be words from an ancient hymn: “whether… the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours.” This is a recurring Pauline theme: The love of God powerfully encompasses everything (cf. Romans 8:38-9). And it builds on a larger biblical emphasis that God is the ruler and owner of everything (cf. I Chronicles 29:11, Psalm 24:1). Paul builds on these assumptions in teaching the church’s identity through Christ. He writes, “…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (I Corinthians 3:23).
This applies to correct a misunderstanding of Christian leadership. Different groups in the Corinthian church were spouting out factionalized claims of belonging. “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’” (1:12). Paul explained that this was a sign of spiritual immaturity (3:4), partly because the church is not the building or the pastor or the piano, but the people. This is why he says (in 3:17b), “…God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple”.
So, it’s not a matter of people belonging to particular Christian leaders, lining up in factions behind favorites. Rather, it’s about the grace of God leading us in our life together. There’s a good expression that says, “There’s one church in Emporia, with many different assemblies.”
Here’s another way of thinking of it: Any married person will tell you that it does no good for spouses to argue over which one is the best, since both are in it together. A good friend told me something the day I got married: “Her stuff is her stuff, and your stuff is also her stuff.” That’s another way of putting it. But either way you’re in the same boat – so you work together instead of working against each other.
This applies to the Christian family (i.e. the church) as well, and it runs counter to the worldly wisdom of doing things. The world says to compete to be the best. It tells us that we’re in a rat race, and you’ve got to run over the opposition. It’s a divide-and-conquer mentality that pulls people into teams with the agenda of proving your team to be the best. In this environment some people will switch teams if it makes them feel better. Others will work to put down and destroy their opponents. The common marks of this disposition are jealousy and quarreling (3:3).
This line of thought is a futile trap, and Paul quotes scripture to prove it (in 3:19-20, citing Job 5:13 and Psalm 94:11). By contrast, he was preaching the message of cross. It’s usually not in accord with the world because it’s a message of strength by way of weakness (I Corinthians 1:18-25). Those who subscribe to the alternative worldly “wisdom” need to unlearn these things so that they can be truly wise (3:18, cf. Matthew 18:2-4, John 3:3).
Those who receive the true wisdom will have a fuller sense of all that we possess together in Christ. Look around you in the church sometime. Take note of the setting and the people nearby. The year 2016 is almost over; 2017 will go by before you know it. I think of the saints who’ve gone on into eternity in this past year: Wes Wheeler, Elaine Ek, Norma Powell, Helen Ericson, and others. They’ve graduated from the church militant into the church triumphant. And the people that we now see won’t always be with us either. The hymns that we’re singing and the ways we’re worshiping – the smiles, the friends, the food, the fellowship – these are all marks of God-given beauty. In the Christian life, it’s all yours.
So rejoice and be glad. Cherish these moments that won’t last forever; cherish them in the light of eternity and the love of Christ. All things are yours indeed.
God bless you.
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.