The crucified Christ in 1 Corinthians (Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still’s insights and my reflections)  

I am reading 1 Corinthians at the moment. Yesterday I thought I might take a look at Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still’s Thinking Through Paul (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), expecting that they would provide me with a good overview of the letter. I was not disappointed, for I came across some succinct and insightful comments about 1 Corinthians.

Longnecker and Still think that the centre of the letter’s vision is “nothing but Christ crucified,” which I wholeheartedly concur.

A good passage to cite here would be 1 Cor 2:1–5.

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (NIV; emphasis added)

I do wonder how often preaching today is characterised by eloquent speech, human wisdom and power, rather than weakness, fear and trembling?

I do believe that well-prepared sermons and thoughtful biblical reflections are very important. But that’s very different from eloquent motivational talks that say little about the crucified Christ and primarily appeal to the emotion.

This is what Longnecker and Still say regarding the crucified Christ.

As Paul unpacks the phrase “Jesus Christ crucified,” he shows that it involves a radical redefinition of life and a sweeping reconfiguration of lifestyle. If “Jesus Christ crucified” is something of a slogan for Paul, it is a slogan that informs the repatterning of whole sectors of life—individual and collective, ethical and ecclesial . . . (Page 116; emphasis added)

These words from [1 Cor] 2:1–5 exemplify what Paul does throughout much of this letter. That is, he highlights a strand of the gospel that subverts the Corinthians’ cultural norms and expectations and applies it to their situation in ways that reorient them along the path of the gospel’s outworking. (Pages 116–7; emphasis added)

The cross is not only for our benefit. The grace of God through Christ also calls for a radical reorientation of every sphere of life.

Longnecker and Still continue to say,

At the heart of all this is what Paul calls “the message of the cross.” As he readily recognizes, that message is “foolishness” when analysed in reference to the quest for honor that enraptured the Corinthian ethos. Paul calls the Corinthians to look beyond that perception of foolishness in order that they might be empowered with “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18; also 2:4–5), enabling them to be reoriented to the story of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. (Page 117; emphasis added)

The challenge for us, then, is to abandon using our human wisdom to achieve the mission and purposes that God has given the church. Instead of asking how “successful” we are, and measure “success” in terms of the value system of the world, we should ask whether our message is “foolish” from the perspective of the world.

This does not mean that we don’t use wisdom or that we should abandon learning. Neither should we present the gospel in ways that are not thoughtful. But we should always be careful that we don’t deviate from the message of the crucified Christ and a (corporate and individual) life that embodies the cross, which will always appear to be foolish in the eyes of the world.

Longnecker and Still make the following comments regarding Paul’s own life.

The apostolic pattern of Paul’s ministry itself demonstrates that God’s wisdom runs against the grain of cultural constructed systems of honor. So Paul characterizes his ministry as, among other things, foolish, weak, and dishonorable by cultural standards (4:9–13), concluding that he has “become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world.” (Page 120)

Here is something that every Christian leader needs to take heed of. Our celebrity culture today is fertile ground to foster leadership patterns that seek honour and glory in front of the world. Personality cult in the Christian circle is all too common. Paul would have nothing to do with it.


Church unity as God’s transforming power (Bruce Longenecker)

I think one of the biggest issues facing the church today (in the Western world and increasingly in other parts of the world) is individualism. The “I” is at the centre of our lives. Faith is about an individual’s relationship with God, and has little to do with God’s purpose of the formation of a Christ-community.

But of course churches do talk about the importance of unity. Unfortunately, often (though not always) people talk about church unity when they want to stop others from voicing their concerns about the church. (The same applies the Christian organisations.) I am not saying that people should not talk about church unity when there are divisions. Neither do I mean that divisive behaviour is not destructive.

In fact, I think that, for the apostle Paul, unity within a church community is of paramount importance. But the motivation for maintaining unity should not stem from our own desire to maintain the status quo, hold on to our positions of power, or silence the voice of others without genuinely listening to them.

Much more can be said, but I read something from Bruce Longenecker’s The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), that’s very insightful.

It is important to recognise that ecclesiastical [i.e., church] unity for Paul is not an end in itself nor an anthropological [i.e., human] maxim of some sort, as if he thought simply that being associated with others is an obvious good. Instead, the unity of diverse humanity in Christ is a theocentric [i.e., God-centred] symbol. It testifies to God’s sovereignty in overcoming the forces of chaos that threaten his handiwork. It advertises God’s transforming power and overlordship in Christ. Christian unity evidences that the high God, who is one and who alone is worthy of worship, is at work in the corporate body of those in Christ. (page 67)

Paul is well aware, however, that ecclesiastical {i.e. church] unity does not simply transpire out of nothing. Instead, it is the result of a transformation within the moral identity of those in Christ. The corporate unity that follows from God’s triumph is itself the product of a pattern of social life animated wholly by the eschatological Spirit. (page 67)

In light of this, unity within the body of Christ has everything to do the outworking of the lordship of Jesus in our lives. It is based on God’s triumph over evil through Christ’s obedient death and resurrection. It is the result of our identify in Christ and the work of transformation of the divine Spirit.

God’s “oneness” and his establishment of a worldwide community of believers (Bruce Longenecker)

I finally have a chance to read Bruce Longenecker’s The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), a book that I should have read a long time ago.

As I read the New Testament, I become increasingly convinced that God’s sovereignty over the cosmos, his triumph over evil, and his gathering of a worldwide community of believers in Christ, are crucial to our understanding of the gospel. We are called to participate in this gospel by proclaiming Christ to the nations and by our active involvement in the worldwide missional community that he has established.

Here is a wonderful quote from Longenecker’s book that leads me to worship, and say “Amen!”

Accordingly, in Paul’s thought, God’s ‘oneness’ — that is, God’s sovereignty, supremacy over competing deities, and worthiness as the one who alone is to be worshipped — is advertised in the social constituency of God’s people. God’s eschatological triumph results in, consists of, and is exhibited by, the establishment of a community of catholic membership. The formation of such a group is itself the placard, the display, and the disclosure of the power of the ultimate divinity. This fundamental tenet of Paul’s vision for Christian corporate identity is articulated succinctly in Gal. 3.28: in the eschatological community of God’s people ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’. (page 57)