Reading Time: 5 Minutes
Simone Weil described a familiar struggle we all face in her book, “Gravity and Grace.” Grace lifts us up to live like our Savior, but gravity pulls us down to embrace the sad junk of culture.
The Corinthian church was in the throws of gravity, sinking under a compromised morality. Paul wrote to inject them with the upward lift of grace, so that they would return to committed discipleship.
The problem in Corinth was that influential members were actively compromising the life of the church with “puffed up,” prideful so-called wisdom.
Paul used irony, sarcasm, and his own example as a “tool” to bring them to their senses and to return them to an obedient relationship with Jesus.
Question that all end in “Yes”
Paul bombarded the Corinthian church with a series of questions. He didn’t have to provide answers to the questions, because the answer was “Yes” to each one of them.
— Am I not free?
— Am I not an apostle?
— Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?
— Are you not my work in the Lord?
— Do we not have the right to our food and drink?
— Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?
— Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?
— Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?
— Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same?
— If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?
— If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more? (1 Corinthians 9.1-11)
Do you think Paul wanted to get his point across to the church? Yes indeed, he did!
What was his point? Prideful, prestige-seeking, leaders who sought their own advantage over others were not to be followed.
Rather, Paul presented his self-giving, humble desire to serve as the example most to be imitated.
The gravity of the leaders pulled people down, but the grace of Paul’s example was designed to lift people up to the standards of Jesus.
If anyone was entitled to receive preferential treatment in Corinth, it was Paul. But if Paul took advantage of his rights, he knew that he would be pulled down by the gravity of the prevailing Corinthian culture.
Paul made it clear that he would not assert his rights. He wrote, “Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9.12).
The good news of Jesus turns the world upside down. Gravity is a powerful force and it seeks to pull everyone down to a this-world-centered lifestyle.
Powerful grace is so rare that it goes against the grain of what is the cultural norm. However, grace lifts people up so that they are able to live the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Paul described the upside down action of grace. By themselves, each of the following statements would have challenged what the Corinthian church assumed to be true. Taken together, they were explosive.
— For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.
— To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.
— To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
— To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.
— To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.
— I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9.20-22)
Paul’s example was revolutionary and counter-cultural. If he had surrendered to the gravity of Corinthian society, he would have done the opposite of what he wrote.
Grace lifted Paul above the mundane pettiness of society. He expressed this as his greatest desire, “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9.23).
Paul has given generations of Christians an example of how to live in self-giving love. My hope for all of us is that we will follow his example and experience the difference it makes in our families, among co-workers, and neighbors.
If you have a prayer request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood Baptist prayer team is honored to pray for you.