Brothers do not be children in your thinking.One of the interesting things that has often been noted about the book of 1 Corinthians is how Paul corrects the errant behaviour and childishness of the Corinthians with the gospel. It seems counter intuitive, and leaves one wondering why he thought this was so important when it’s pretty clear they had major issues with practice. Why is Christ Crucified the only thing he determines to know among them? Why does he lace a letter that has to deal with a variety of terrible behaviour with doctrinal truths?
I think the reason becomes apparent when we consider the common thread of the behaviour itself. While there seem to be a plethora of issues, all of them-from picking Apostolic sides to interrupting the assembly to eating up everything at the Lord’s supper-are mere symptoms of what the Corinthian problem really was. Paul diagnoses the underlying illness, it is this problem that he seeks to heal with the word of the gospel-the problem is simply incurvatus. Or in English, plain old selfishness.
The Corinthians exhibit all to the childishness that only narcissists are capable of, because narcissists really do believe the world does revolve around them. Even Christianity is all about my salvation, my satisfaction, my sanctification. Right? Me me me.
But unfortunately for our narcissistic tendencies, our religion isn’t called “metianity.” There is someone else’s name in the title. Someone else who gets the top billing. The story has another protagonist.
Paul hits the narcissists of Corinth with the gospel because anyone who really thinks it’s still all about them after everything he has preached has missed and misunderstood what the gospel really is. And Paul reminds them of the fact. When he preaches Christ Crucified, he does it to remind them not only of the work of Christ, the climax of all human history, but also to say “that means the climax isn’t you, you short-sighted morons“.
The gospel transforms us because the gospel inverts us. It pulls us from our natural orientation of self as centre of a decaying universe, and pulls us outward. Suddenly we see a new kingdom, where someone else is King. Not only does it present us with the true centre of the universe giving up everything to pay our debts, but it reorients our entire perspective to him. To the one bearing the shame of the cross. Not because he demanded his rights, but because he gave to those who had wronged and deserved nothing from him.
To say we still want to do it our own damn way is to return to our own navels. So we throw childish tantrums, sue one another, take offence at minor slights, even disrespect the table of the Lord. Our belief that everything is permissible is nothing more than a colossal example of missing the point. Of everything. Paul repeatedly tells his childish readers “imitate me”-then goes on to say how he has given up everything, asked for nothing, demanded no rights-”as I imitate Christ”.
We are given insight to the need for the narcissist to hear the gospel by the parable of the unmerciful servant. As Christ said, if you don’t forgive neither have you been forgiven. And I have long thought he meant that the bitter and unforgiving have no idea what they’ve been given in forgiveness. They do not appreciate how much was done for their benefit. They don’t really “get” forgiveness. We who have been forgiven much should love much. Not only love God whom we haven’t seen, but love our brothers whom we have. This is why John ties this kind of love to the gospel. Not because it’s a substitute for the preaching of Christ, or because it somehow is part of the gospel, but because people who get the gospel inevitably come to love the unlovable, even as they themselves have been unloveable recipients of the love of God.
So the one who can’t forgive and sues his brother, the one who eats up all the food and ignores his hungry brother, the one who lords his gift of tongues over his brothers-these people simply don’t get the gospel. They really don’t get it. And they need it. Those who think they are wise and worthy, those who think they have the right to have everything their way, those who love to be first-there is something very deficient in their thinking. And that thing is the vision of God himself not grasping for equality, but lowering himself to become a servant. Divesting himself of his right to destroy and punish and absorbing the cost in the body he took to himself forever. That’s what it’s about. Any who still whine when they don’t get what they want or have their way haven’t been sufficiently shamed out of it by the power of the gospel.
And Paul does use the gospel like a surgeon. As a sharp knife that cuts away the flesh of our hearts and eyes, that cuts the contracted tendons, that cuts the tie to our own navels. The knife that makes the painful cuts to kill and purge evil-the evil that is our native tongue. Not with eloquent words, but in power and by the Spirit.