For the next several broadcasts I am going to continue where I left off about a month ago. We were studying together a number of verses taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In the main our broadcasts centered in a precious gift God is pleased to give to His church: the preaching of the gospel. For some reason, in much of the church world there is today a low opinion of the preaching. This is true for a couple of reasons. Many churches do not appreciate the value Scripture places on preaching. In their opinion, preaching is antiquated and needs to be replaced by other means of spreading the gospel. Another reason is, much of the church today does not know what good preaching is. Preaching has fallen on hard times. Many think that preaching is, on the one extreme, a tool to make people feel good about themselves, a pep-talk, of sorts, something to make them laugh and forget about their troubles for a little while. Others believe that preaching is a dull, abstract, dogmatic lecture on some deep theological truth divorced from the life and faith of God’s people. We have learned in past broadcasts already what true and therefore good preaching is. It is the simple explanation or exposition of God’s Word, applying it to the life and faith of God’s saints. I will say no more about it at this point. Not because there is no more to be said, but because Paul takes up the subject of preaching again in chapter 4. We will speak on it one more time in our next broadcast therefore.
Today we wish to direct our attention to a number of beautiful verses found at the end of I Corinthians 3. They are verses God’s people and the church need in order to sustain them in this new year before us. We read in I Corinthians 3:21-23, “Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” We are already aware of the problem that existed in the Corinthian church. There were divisions and strife in the church. The church had divided up into groups or parties, each claiming a prominent preacher and teacher to themselves as their authority. One group claimed Apollos to themselves, another Peter or, Cephas. Still others claimed that they followed after the apostle Paul. There was fighting, quarreling, slander, gossip, and all the rest that accompanies such division. This is why we receive the instruction of the Word of God we consider today. Do not glory in any man! Do not follow after men! Why? We belong to Jesus Christ. He is Lord of His church. He gathers, defends, and preserves her. Through every circumstance of life, Christ will guide His church. This summarizes the whole argument of Paul in the first three chapters. By it this Word of God teaches us a truth that is vital for continued peace in any church. We are God’s, and for that reason everything is ours.
I. A Blessed Reality
What a precious possession is given to the church of Jesus Christ. Paul teaches us that to the church of Jesus Christ pertain all things in this life and in the church. Paul writes to the church of Corinth, “all things are yours.” By this he refers to the members of the church in Corinth collectively, together as a whole. Paul is not speaking to individuals in this passage. He speaks to the church as an organic whole, the church as the individual saints together make up the body of Christ. Many people, when reading their Bibles, fail to see that it addresses churches and members within those churches. They view each passage as addressing them personally apart from the church. These view the teaching of salvation and all it implies individualistically, as if it belongs to them personally, not in connection with anyone else. Scripture never speaks of our salvation in this way. It emphasizes our worth to God in terms of our belonging to the body of Christ as a whole. The Corinthians were guilty of party strife, individual against individual and party against party. Paul addresses therefore all the individuals of the church as one whole. All things are yours. All of you together make up the one body of Christ in Corinth. Your significance to Christ and God is that you are as a whole the church. And yours, church of Jesus Christ, are all things!
There is a wonderful reality that undergirds the church’s possession of all things. That reality must be laid out carefully, first of all, in order to understand why it is that all things that pertain to this life and the life to come are ours as members of the church. That blessed reality is this: “you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s!” You as a whole belong to Christ, who in turn belongs to God—which ultimately means, of course, you belong to God! That is the greatest of joys and comfort to us as God’s people. We do not belong to any certain man. We belong to Christ!
The church of Christ has belonged to Christ from before time began in eternity. We were chosen by God, in His eternal plan, in Christ. Christ was chosen first in the counsel of God in eternity. God then chose us in Christ. We were given by the Father to Him. The church was chosen, elected in Christ, before the foundation of the world. From all eternity, therefore, we have belonged to Christ. But it is in time that this counsel of God was actually fulfilled. And that by means of the death of Christ on the cross. When Christ shed His blood for His church, she became His. He purchased us to Himself with that blood. It was the price He paid for His people. You see, we were enslaved to sin and Satan. Sin was our taskmaster. We were held in the chains of unbelief. But when Christ performed the wonder work of salvation on the cross, then through His blood we were redeemed from sin and Satan. As a result, we became His possession.
Yet, the relationship between us and Christ is even closer than this. By means of the Spirit of Christ sent to dwell in our hearts, we have literally become one body with Christ. We have been given the gift of faith, and that faith binds us to Christ as one flesh, so that we are now one with Christ. Not that we are somehow equal members with Him in the same body, but in the sense that we are members of His body—He at the Head. His life is in us, He is the vine, the root out of which our life flows, so that in a real way we belong to Him—we are grafted into Him. All of this has profound implications for our lives as individual saints and as a church.
All that we are, all that we hope to be, all that we possess, all that we experience in this life belongs to Christ! All the worst things in our lives are Christ’s! After all, our very sins have been accounted to Him, and He bore our reproach before God. Our griefs and sorrows are His, our afflictions and pains, our sufferings, our life and death, all belong to Christ. We are His, and everything about us is His. Not only the worst things but the best of things too! Our good works are rooted in Him, and the temporal gifts we receive are blessings to us because of Him. The eternal mercies we receive are because of Him. We are His in everything we are and possess. What a wonderful comfort that is to us.
But there is more, because Christ, after all, is not the end of all things. God is. Paul tells us that we, the church of Jesus Christ, belong to Christ, who in turn belongs to God. When we speak in terms of possession here, we are not concerned with the fact that Jesus as the divine-human Mediator is under the triune God in rank and authority. We know that is true too, but that is not what God’s Word here means to express. What it teaches us here is the ever-so-close relationship of God to Jesus. Jesus is that Son of God’s love. There was the most intimate of relationships that existed between God and Christ. Christ came to do the will of His heavenly Father. He humbled Himself and came in the likeness of sinful flesh to bear sin for us—all in perfect love and obedience to the will of His Father. Christ is God’s. He belonged to the Father and came to do the will of His Father!
But this is the beautiful and personal part of it all: Christ came to reconcile the members of His church to God. We who had been a long time alienated from the presence of God on account of our sin are brought back to God through Christ. Not only therefore do we become a possession of Christ, but through Christ we become a possession of God Himself. By that same blood by which Christ purchased us, He also adopted us. We have through the blood of Christ become the adopted children of the ever-blessed God. God has become our Father and Friend.
Once again, this has profound implications for our lives as individuals and as church. It means, first of all, that God is always there for us! Amidst our deepest woes and sorrows God is there upholding us with His mighty arm! In all our ways, God takes us up into His bosom and guides us along our paths. This means, in the second place, what we read in Romans 8:31: “if God be for us, who can be against us?” If we belong to God, then everything in this life He will guide and direct for our welfare and salvation! He loves us! He will not suffer our feet to be moved. We are His possession! The church belongs to the God of heaven and earth, who is in control of everything!
II. A Precious Possession
This is the blessed reality that undergirds the truth of our text when it says all things are yours. You, church of Jesus Christ, are the possession of Christ and of God. And as you belong to them, they in turn give everything to you! All things are yours, we learn! You have been given all things as a precious possession!
Let us take a close look at what things God has given us in Christ. We are told in the last part of verse 22 of our text, first of all, that the world, as well as life and death, belongs to those who belong to Christ. Consider these wonderful gifts from God! The world belongs to the church as a possession. The term “world” here does not refer to unbelieving men, though God uses even the wicked for the benefit of the church. This term refers, however, to the realm of that which is created, the cosmos, the universe in its created form. This world is ours. Striking is it not? Not only heaven is ours, but this present creation is ours too. It belongs to God’s people. God created it with their salvation in mind. From this creation we receive countless earthly blessings, which we in turn use to serve God in this world. Each day what God gives us here in this present world we cherish as a gift of His hand to us. God has given us life—not, now, our natural life, but that spiritual life that is ours in Jesus Christ. Belonging to Christ we receive from Him the blessings of salvation and everything that is involved in that salvation. We live, with that life which is from above, the life of regeneration. We have been given spiritual life, where there was nothing but death. We have been called out of darkness into light, we have received the gift of faith that binds us to Christ. We have been justified, sanctified. We are preserved and we will be glorified. All these things belong to that life which we have been given in Christ. As a result, death is also ours. What a wonderful gift death is to the believer!
Gift? Oh yes, gift! Death is the release from sin and its countless burdens. It is the abolishing of the temptations and evil against which we wrestle every day of our lives. It is the end of mortality and corruption. Death for the child of God is a passageway into the glories of heaven that are awaiting him.
All these things belong to the church of Jesus Christ. Paul says to God’s saints, “you belong to Christ, you are God’s. Life and death are yours. As also are things present and things to come.” By present things is meant the things of the here and now. All the things that surround us here in this life. All the events of history, of the church, of our lives. All the objects, situations, and experiences that pertain to this life. All these are ours. Again, we cannot help but be struck by the fact that God directs the course of history itself for the ultimate salvation of the church. Many events that take place in the government and in the society of our own land presently do not seem to bode well for the church of Jesus Christ. When we are confronted with the many burdens and cares of our life and that of our family, we wonder to ourselves how these things are for our good. But everything that takes place in this present life God uses for our good! We know and believe that. Why? Because we belong to Jesus Christ and He to God! God rules His people through Christ!
Quite naturally, all things to come are for us too. The wicked cannot say that. He may prosper for a time in this world. His life may be filled with temporal joy and laughter. But the wicked man can never say that the things to come are his. The hereafter will bring to him pain and suffering eternally. But the child of God is characterized by hope because the things to come belong to him too! Heaven is his possession! This world and the new heavens and earth that shall come are ours! Why? Because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s!
This is the very idea that Paul impressed upon the hearts of God’s people in Corinth. These people were quarreling over the various pastors God had sent them to preach there. There were those who felt that Apollos was the man. There was no one like him. Apollos was an articulate orator. Dynamic and charismatic. But there were others who argued with this faction and claimed that Apollos was nothing. Paul was the proper leader of the church. He was solid and had put the labor into sowing the church in Corinth. Because of this they had to follow and remain faithful to Paul. There were others who looked at Cephas, i.e., Peter, and, though they had never heard him preach, nevertheless respected him as the apostle who seemed to be the ultimate head of all things in Jerusalem. Paul wanted to show the fallacy and foolishness of this kind of reasoning! “Look, saints,” he said to the members of Corinth, “whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, we are all yours! Not just one of us! All of us God uses for you!” How foolish it was to pit these men against each other when in fact all of them, and the grace they received of God to preach, belonged to the Corinthians! God does not build His church on the foundation of a man. No one man is essential to the building of God’s church in this world. God uses various builders to build His temple. And each builder must take a good hard look at himself to see whether he is building upon God’s church hay and stubble or gold and silver. But either way, God will build His church. That is the beauty of the passage before us today.
All things belong to the church and her members! They are God’s temple! They are His possession. Never ought we to think that God will forsake His possession. The church is the body of Jesus Christ, and at her Head stands the Savior Himself, who belongs to our mighty God. In light of this blessed reality God’s people need never fear what is going to happen to them in the future. That always seems to be our fear, does it not? What will become of the church in times to come? What will become of my children and grandchildren? Let us answer that fear with another question. Has the church ever been forsaken by God? Never! God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved! The church is the temple of the living God!
III. A Humbling Reminder
That ought to humble all of us greatly. “Let no man glory in men,” we learn from verse 21. God’s people, who belong to God, bring to Him alone all honor and glory and thanks. They give thanks to God for the church itself. They thank God for their salvation, which is all of the Lord. They thank God for the preaching of the gospel—something so important for their spiritual lives. They thank God for the men who are sent by God to preach the gospel. Such glorying in God puts an end to strife and vainglory in the church.
We are the temple of God! Look what God has done for us! Look at what God has wrought in us! What a wonder work of God the church is! We are Christ’s and Christ is God’s! Where then is our boast today? It is in God Himself, to whom belongs all honor, power, and glory! “He builds the walls of Zion, He seeks her wandering sons. He binds their wounds and gently heals the broken hearted ones.” Let him that glories glory in the Lord.