Summary: I Corinthians 6 challenges us to follow the way of the cross in dealing with contentious issues within the church
Several years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was responsible for the children’s story. I wanted to help the children think about Jesus as their friend, so I began with this question: Who would you go to if you had a problem? One child said he would go to his grandma. Another said he would go to his teacher. Another said his mother. Then an 8 or 9-year- old, who must have thought I hadn’t got the right answer yet, said, “An attorney?”
We live in a litigious society. In Ohio alone we have 34,856 lawyers, one for every 315 people. By comparison, Japan has one for 8,195 people. The U.S. leads the world in lawyers and litigation. Suing people who get your goat has become a pastime in our country.
According to some scholars, that is the way it was in the city of Corinth. The church Paul was writing to was located in a wealthy city where law courts were not only a way to settle differences, they were a source of entertainment. The problem was that members of the church were using secular courts to settle differences among themselves, and that is not the way of the cross.
For those of you not here last Sunday, we are preaching from this letter to the Corinthian church during the weeks leading up to Easter. Those of you who were here last Sunday will recall that Paul emphasizes the way of the cross in chapter 1. He says the cross may seem like foolishness to unbelievers, but to those who believe, it is not only the instrument of salvation, it is a pattern for living. And it is that pattern of living that Paul wants to impress upon this young congregation. The way of the cross is the pattern of living for the Christian community. Let me ask you, have you embraced the cross as the pattern for your life?
So, what does the way of the cross mean for a community of believers who live in a society where attorneys and courts and judges and juries are everywhere, just waiting to take your case and decide your disputes?
I want to begin with the last verse of today’s passage –v 11, because it serves as the lynch pin to Paul’s argument. The first point is:
1. The way of the cross means a transformed identity. “This is what some of you used to be.” And Paul gives a short list of behaviors that go against everything the Kingdom of God stands for. Maybe you can find yourself in the list.
What is Paul talking about? He’s saying that when you turned your face toward the cross, you turned away from the values and standards and behaviors society lives by. Your point of reference is Christ. Like a butterfly that leaves behind the habits of a caterpillar, the reality of your life has changed. Have you ever wondered how different the world must seem to a butterfly when it has been used to being a caterpillar all its life? When you were baptized, or washed as Paul says, God placed you in a new reality. The Bible says you were cleansed of your sins, forgiven for what is past.
In addition, Paul says you were sanctified, set apart for God’s service. Throughout the Bible, beginning in the OT, we see that people and utensils were set apart for God’s purposes. In 1:1 Paul says the members of the Corinthian church are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”
And you were justified. That is, you were placed in right relation to God within the community of God’s people. The walls that kept you from a relationship to God and his people have been broken down. Being baptized into Christ means you enter a new reality in which those things that used to give you status, security, and identity no longer count. Now we find our identity in Christ alone.
An old story about St. Augustine says that he had been anything but a saint as a young man, visiting prostitutes and doing things young pagans do. One day he heard God speak to him and he became obedient to Christ. Soon after his conversion, as he was walking down the street, a prostitute began to walk after him, calling his name. He paid no attention and kept walking. She called louder. “Augustine, it’s me,” she said. And he replied, “But it’s no longer me.”
Don’t underestimate the impact of a new identity. The implications are out of this world. I heard of a preacher who asked his congregation, “How many of you want to go to heaven?” Everybody raised their hands. The pastor went on, “Good. Now then, beginning tomorrow….” A new identity means new behavior.
Paul wants to remind us that we are no longer what we used to be. The way of the cross calls us to a new identity and that means that we do not ask secular society to solve our differences.