the weblog of Alan Knox

Who are you?

Posted by on Sep 17, 2009 in definition, scripture | 8 comments

I’m preparing a lecture for Dave Black’s NT Theology class concerning the church meeting as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Although I’ve studied these chapters many, many times, I’m studying them again as I prepare this lesson. And, since these chapters are part of a longer letter, I’m trying to better understand this section in the context of the whole.

In reading 1 Corinthians again, I noticed something interesting. I think I knew this already, but it stood out as I was reading this time. What did I notice? Identity (essence) was very important to Paul! What do I mean?

The church in Corinth had problems… major problems.

They were dividing from one another based on which apostle/evangelist they liked. They had morality problems. The strong disregarded the weak. The rich disregarded the poor. Those with certain spiritual gifts disregarded others. Some did not believe in the resurrection.

In other words, they had morality issues, interpersonal relationship issues, and belief (doctrinal) issues. They were a mess.

But, when Paul addressed them, he addressed them as:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in (set apart by) Christ Jesus, called to be saints (holy ones) together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV)

Regardless of the problems among the believers in Corinth, Paul recognized them as and interacted with them as the church… those who had been set apart (from the world) by God. He even reminded them that they were as much God’s people as were the believers in every other city.

In other words, Paul considered their common identity (essence) in Christ as the church of God to be of primary importance. And, the opening address is not the only place where Paul reminded them of their identity in Christ:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus… (1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV)

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV)

He [God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV)

And, all of those reminders about their identity in Christ are in the first chapter!

Paul reminded the Corinthians that while he and Apollos and others had worked among them, it was God that brought them into his family (1 Corinthians 3:6). He reminded them that God’s Spirit dwells within them individually (1 Corinthians 6:19) and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16). Paul continually reminded them of their identity in Christ.

Not only that, but Paul continually addressed them as brothers, reminding them that their identity was a shared identity. Neither their moral problems, nor their inter-relational problems, nor their doctrinal problems caused Paul to separate from them. Why? Because he dealt with who they were, not with what they did or believed. (There is a big difference in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where some Galatians were denying the gospel. This caused Paul to question their identity in Christ.)

In fact, when Paul addressed the issues in Corinth – moral, relational, doctrinal – he addressed the issues as what should supernaturally flow from their identity. As children of God, they should act a certain way, relate a certain way, and believe a certain way. But, neither their ethics nor their beliefs formed their identity. Their identity was found in God through Christ by the Spirit.

When dealing with their moral problems, Paul called the Corinthians “brothers and sisters.” When dealing with their relational problems, Paul treated the Corinthians as “brothers and sisters.” When considering their doctrinal problems, Paul continued to recognize that the Corinthians were “brothers and sisters” – even in the case of the resurrection.

We would do well to learn how to deal with one another based on identity (essence) instead other issues. Yes, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we want to continually help one another (and be helped by one another) with moral, relational, and belief problems. But, until someone demonstrates that they are not in Christ (in identity), then we must continually treat one another through our shared identity as brother and sister in Christ.


8 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-17-2009

    Alan,
    Yes! Members of the Body of Christ first and foremost. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28).

    As Dave Black said recently regarding the church in Acts, “The church is not yet fully organized, BUT WHAT WE DO SEE IS A FULLY FUNCTIONING CORPORATE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY.”

  2. 9-17-2009

    nice

  3. 9-17-2009

    Hey, AussieJohn,

    Through the comment “Members of the Body of Christ first and foremost”, you’re not saying that the church covenant is more important that the individual salvific covenant in the blood of Christ, right? I know that there are some hyper-covenantalists that believe that the covenant of the church is somewhat equal to salvation. There are a number of systematic problems – and a number of scriptures that are at odds – with that thinking.

    I do realize that we are to function together as a body, and we are to love each other to the utmost, and that our love for each other will be a display to others for who we are, and that we are to not concern ourselves with the tares/goats that look like Christians. I also realize that we should unite on the essentials, have charity in non-essentials, and in all things love one another. But the greatest part of our commission as a church is to make disciples, pointing all to Christ as our head priest. The church loses its way when it presents a “high” view of the church, with specialized church governance and extra-scriptural rules, and a large part of that comes out of not recognizing the organic and spiritual nature of the church – that it flows out of who we are in Christ, not how systematically we can force others into submission to the scriptures. It would take a bit too long to formulate all of my thoughts here – I hope you understand what I am getting at with these distinctions.

  4. 9-17-2009

    Alan,

    Speaking of 1 Corinthians. Let me aks you something. I have noticed something in my study of it again. Paul is calling men who are engaging in temple prostitution brothers and doesn’t tell the church to disfellowship them; however, he does ask them to disfellowship the brother sleeping with his step-mom.

    The next question is this. Do you believe 1 Corinthians 5 is being used properly today in fellowships? It seems to be a catch all, but there it seems to be something quite particular. Whats your thoughts?

  5. 9-17-2009

    Jeremiah,

    You say,

    “The church loses its way when it presents a “high” view of the church, with specialized church governance and extra-scriptural rules, and a large part of that comes out of not recognizing the organic and spiritual nature of the church – that it flows out of who we are in Christ, not how systematically we can force others into submission to the scriptures.”

    I would offer that the view of church that contains “specialized church governance and extra-scriptural rules” is a rather earthly view and not the “high” view it purports to be. A truly high view of church recognizes Christ as its Head and behaves and structures itself accordingly (which, from my reading, is what you are saying in the remainder of your comment). I would caution, though, that the organic and spiritual nature of the church does not flow from its members, but from its Head. Both the nature of church and the nature of disciples flow from the Head.

  6. 9-17-2009

    Alan,

    I apologize if I haven’t been clear in what I wrote. I believe Paul is doing more than simply contrasting water baptism and circumcision in the passage I quoted.

    Jeremiah, You asked, “….you’re not saying that the church covenant is more important that the individual salvific covenant in the blood of Christ, right?”

    I sure am NOT! NO WAY!

    I was baptized into the one Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit at conversion. I have one Shepherd, one Ruler under whose authority I’m privileged to live and function.

  7. 9-17-2009

    Aussie John,

    I like that… one Body of Christ… one Shepherd, one Ruler.

    Scott,

    Thanks.

    Jeremiah,

    I’m pretty sure that you and Aussie John are very close on your beliefs about the church.

    Lionel,

    Why can’t you ask me easy questions sometimes? I don’t know how to answer your question, but you did help us have a very good discussion in the office. Thanks.

    Laura,

    I like the way you described a “high” view of the church. :)

    -Alan

  8. 9-18-2009

    Alan,

    Thanks. Studying Ephesians (especially 4:7-16) for multiple years can correct one’s perspective. :-)